By dabeagle - Chapter 7
Kody stalked a few square feet of stone floor, back and forth with a worried frown on his face, stealing glances at me from time to time. He was obviously deep in thought about something, god only knows what. He had backed away from me after my outburst, and to my surprise was proving to be the one with the inner strength, the intestinal fortitude, and I was crumbling from the inside out. It all seemed so surreal, the spells, the portals and this land of warring territories that we had stumbled into.
Right then I hated Michael for chasing us, for scaring Kody. Most of all I hated me for putting us here, for endangering us both. Honestly, just for endangering Kody. He didn't deserve this.
"I deserve a friend like you. No one else ever tried to do the right thing, except Drew. I had it hard, I know that, and you're loyal and you care for me, I can't ask more than that from you," Kody said while kneeling next to me. I looked at him in confusion.
"Sorry," he smiled, "You aren't guarding your thoughts."
"Is besotted a good thing?" William asked with an irritating grin, sitting next to me. I shielded my thoughts and poked my tongue at him.
"Look, I know you don't understand what's going on, and I'll try to clear it up," William began, "My grandfather was King Corvan the First, he ruled for thirteen years before a hired murderer from the High Lord to the south of us had him killed."
"Why did he do that?" Kody asked while creating an air cushion.
"He was growing too powerful, a threat if he could combine some of the territories. Orund, being the younger, was always in my father's shadow and led a revolt against my father as he tried to stabilize my grandfather's holdings. He was called by the desire for power, and to bring himself into favor with the High Lord, and so drew many to his flag.
"He and my father have fought bitterly, each year the toll grows higher as Orund pushes to take more from my father, he kills the captured knights and posts their heads on battlements as a warning. The High Lord sent Malodur to assist him, as Wizards can tip the balance in a war and he knew we had Asmodean." I shivered at his name.
"Asmodean has protected us both since birth. My father, knowing how his own died, knew that we would need protection in order to survive him, and so Asmodean was charged with the future of the territory. My parents were said to be shocked when Roland displayed spell control at an early age, and Asmodean set to teaching him, and soon afterward I began casting as well. Many who have the ability kill themselves due to the inability to handle the gift, for if it is not respected and used with discipline it can kill the user.
"I know you think you were brought here to fight, but that's not really the truth. Kody's attraction for Roland brought you through; his heart spoke to the gate, magnifying your efforts to read the spell that is chiseled in the stone floor. That is why you came through the gate. The fact that you can cast is a boon for Asmodean, but to me you are the boon.
"When my Uncle caught me on the battlefield, his intention was to kill me. He slit my throat and only a hasty healing from Asmodean saved my life, but he is fire and I am water, so the healing was incomplete. I was useless." A tear tracked down William's face and he viciously scrubbed it out.
"But why did Asmodean try and kill me?" I asked.
"Because he perceived you as a threat to me, but I know your heart. I have felt it, been healed by it's very sweet power, and I told him so myself. Nothing can stand in the way of us protecting our people, or ridding the territories of the High Lord." William looked at me intently, and I felt embarrassed. "He had my mother raped and killed, and when Malodur undid Asmodean's spell to slow time, she became irretrievable. He murdered her in cold blood and I will make him pay."
I nodded in assent. Yes, if someone threatened what I love I would have to fight, I saw that now. It reminded me of the seal of the President, the eagle that clutches an olive branch in one foot and arrows in the other, indicating a love for peace, but that it will fight to protect what it must, when it must.
"I think I'm winning Roland over," Kody said, breaking the serious silence that enveloped us after William's words.
"I think Roland is being a silly ass, he's obviously taken with you and if he doesn't settle his heart he'll be no good on the field. Distraction for a moment means a life ending silence," William replied.
Speak of the devil, the portal made a small whine as the twin silver spires began to glow brighter and brighter until the form in the middle solidified and we saw the room where I had healed William. Asmodean and Roland stepped through hurriedly, the gateway winking shut behind them.
"Your father approaches, word was sent through a tower operative loyal to King Corvan, however we shall have to disrupt the Keep's defenses in order for the army to breach it's walls. We shall have to separate, Malodur has received word that two youth's have the power to cast and has begun killing those he can find," Asmodean said smoothly, but with authority.
"He's killing kids?" I asked, incredulous. "But they are defenseless!" I cried.
"That is what we fight against, child," Asmodean sneered and received a sharp look from William. These people were going to try and kill kids looking for Kody and myself, defenseless people who needed someone stronger to help them. That would be me, that could be my calling. My eyes narrowed, "What's the plan?"
Asmodean's plan was beautiful in it's simplicity. The idea was to locate Malodur and erase him from the picture by any means necessary. We would fan out in pairs, except for Asmodean, and seek him out. We should remove and hide guards' bodies as necessary and, when the charge by the approaching army sounded, break the front gates. I stood and steeled myself with the knowledge that these people were killing innocent children, and fell in place next to Roland. We were paired due to our unlike abilities that could be combined for more devastating effect. I think Asmodean also did not want Kody and I left to our own devices.
"Promise to return to me, brother," William said to Roland, then added, "and bring that fellow next to you with you." I blushed furiously while Kody leaned to me, saying loud enough for all to hear, "Keep him safe, huh? I think I like him." To which Roland grimaced before muttering, "If Orund doesn't kill me, my own heart will."
Suddenly he reached out and grasped Kody's hand and stared him straight in the eye. "I raise my sword today, and it may fall on my own neck by nightfall. I am told the only words we truly regret are those that go unspoken," he licked his lips before continuing, "If you have the heart to be by my side, then I proudly ask that you stand there."
Kody's reaction was immediate and funny as hell. He whooped and jumped on Roland, literally knocking him over and planting a kiss that should have been illegal, since I am sure it required someone not breathing!
Asmodean caught my attention. "I see your choice is made. Bear in mind, I would not hesitate to do it again should your spine prove less than steel."
"My spine is not what guides me, asshole, it's my heart." I replied.
He looked at me a moment longer, thrn nodded in satisfaction. What the hell did that mean?
Once Roland was on his feet, and winded before we started, Asmodean opened the portal and we stepped through. Something was wrong, we sensed it as one when stepping into the passage.
"It's too dark, where are the torches?" Roland asked and Asmodean spun fire, illuminating the chamber. Guards were nestled at one end, men in chain mail who stormed our position with the element of surprise nearly lost. William lashed in anger at those who would hunt down children, water molecules tightening one by one until each soldier was caught in his aquatic grip. He forced one to move forward and face his comrades and then there came a snapping, tearing sound as heads twisted about to face one hundred eighty degree's differently than they had before. Bones popped and cartilage snapped, skin ripped in jagged tears as the unit was executed, save one lone guard.
William strode out and looked at the guard who was shaking uncontrollably, even the water's grip could not entirely still him. The smell of the dead was nauseating and many had evacuated their bowels at death, which I was to learn was common.
"Tell Orund that William is looking for him. Tell him that even the three-headed hound Cerberus cannot save him from my wrath. Tell him, the hunt has begun," William said, drawing his voice down to the merest of whispers, threatening and full of terrible power.
The guard was released from the watery grip, but before he could begin to stumble away he stopped and his head imploded, crumbling in on itself life an over ripe melon, small dribbles of gray matter running down the sides of the neck before the body gave up the fight and crumpled to the ground.
"Prince, while I truly understand your need to punish Orund, I must beg some restraint. Consider if you will that you are an as yet unknown threat to him, and you will pose a better chance for us all to destroy him if you remain in the shadows until the time is ripe." Asmodean intoned, power in his voice.
William struggled momentarily, and then nodded his head in tacit agreement. Roland and I stepped through the right hand passageway, both of us turning to get final looks at the ones we cared for dearly, and were rewarded with their own glances before the passage rounded and they were lost to sight.
"What kind of life did you lead where you came from?" Roland asked quietly as we walked.
"What do you care?" I snarled.
"I am trying to understand you, what you think and why you think it. A ruler must understand his people before he can rule effectively," he replied. I stopped and he turned to face me.
"Look, I am not one of 'your people', you are not my ruler and furthermore," I drew breath to continue but was cut off.
"You love my brother," he stated. This took me by surprise.
"So?" I asked, "What's it to you?"
"Aaron, I cannot change what has been done. True, Asmodean could have handled that differently and I would have preferred it be so, but it wasn't. Try to remember we have been stuck in this day for eons, and now are just finding our way to end this horrible nightmare. We have you and Kody to thank, regardless if it was what you intended.
"What I am having trouble understanding is your aversion to war, your unwillingness to defend one of the few free territories in the whole mess of a confederation under the all be damned High Lord," he said with curiosity plain on his face.
"I...I struggle with the visions of the dead, their screams are haunting me. And it is not my war, but it seems I have little choice. I will follow where William leads, stupid as that may be, and I will stand with him," I replied.
"Is there no war where you come from?" he asked.
"Well, not for a long time. More than a hundred years of peace," I replied.
"So you haven't been in the position we have since birth, struggling to survive with strong enemies at all your flanks. That is why we see things differently," he remarked as he leaned against the passageway.
"Yeah, that might have something to do with it, I value life." I said quietly.
"Who's to say we don't? We fight to protect those we govern, our way of life. Killing is never fun, although if I get to my Uncle first I can guarantee he will suffer long before he finally surrenders to deaths dark arms," he stated coldly.
"I never had to kill someone before coming here, it's...awful," I replied.
"It is, I agree. If we can settle the warring territories into one, we can bring peace. That is the ultimate goal for our kingdom, peace in our time. My brother, he has never loved before. He has always studied, and I feared his heart would wither and grow sour and bitter for not allowing someone to love him. It seems you have broken that cycle, and for that I am in your debt. William is the dearest person I have ever known, please care well for him," Roland said before turning his back to me and stating up the passageway. I grabbed his shoulder and spun him about.
"And what of Kody?" I asked. He sighed heavily.
"I do love him, my heart trumpets victory over my head, but I fear for him. This fear worries me as well, I fear when the day ends I shall not see him that he might be among the dead. I know I shall surely lose a goodly portion of my heart should he not survive. If I can keep him at my side I will, but he has such fire! He is truly what I have waited for," Roland finished with a dreamy expression.
"That's what I wanted to know," I said softly.
"That I'm in love?" he snorted.
"No, that you had a heart."
Kody and William took the left hand passageway, moving quickly until they reached a small chamber. The dank tunnels provided a perfect method to travel unseen to each point of the Keep. They had traveled in silence until reaching the small chamber, where William motioned for a pause while he rested against the stonewall.
"We should take the guard house out, many off duty guards will be there, it will make the offensive that much easier," William stated as though thinking out loud.
"Sounds like a plan. William? Was Roland always so...cold most of the time?" Kody asked. William smiled.
"Well, he never knocked anyone over with a kiss, if that's what you mean!" William chuckled softly, and Kody stubbed his toe into the stone floor.
"I just didn't expect it, that's all. It made me happy, but I can't help but wonder if it's true," Kody said in a near whisper.
"Oh, it's true all right. Roland can't hide anything from me and he's been smitten with you since you healed him. Many people shy away from royalty, and mostly we keep it that way. Makes it easier for us to maintain the air of mystery and powerful auras. The people we lead must never see us in a bad light else it shake their confidence in us, and with the constant warring, there was little opportunity for anything to develop.
"I feared my brother might always be alone in his heart, but it seems you have found the path to open him up," William said, and Kody smiled. "And believe me when I say I never thought I'd see it happen. We had to grow quickly, life isn't easy here, but it will get better. Together, we will make it better."
William stood away from the wall and clasped Kody on the arm; "We will have to spill blood today. Much more will be spilled before all is said and done, and when it is done, we will all stand together as one."
William tuned and headed through the far side of the small chamber and Kody followed. Reaching a dead end William made the now familiar slashing gesture, which made the passage opaque, and a small knot of guards could be seen clustered on the other side, voices drifting through the translucent walls.
"What are we doing here anyway?" asked one.
"Getting paid, won't be long before Corvan shows, then we get to kill someone."
"Quiet, we're supposed to be watching for those boys. Malodur said they could kill us if we weren't sharp!" another barked.
"Get off it! A child? Take me down? I'll take my chances shooting dice instead," the guard sneered as he with drew a leather cup with two carved bones inside. The other guards quickly surrounded him to bet their wages and whatnot on the roll of the dice, even the one that warned of dangerous children.
William held his hand out, palm up, and water coalesced and proceeded to freeze in a spiky ball resting on icy points in his hand. With his other hand he opened the passageway, tossed the ice in the direction of the guards and then turned the wall opaque again.
The ball struck the ground and rolled on its spikes into the group of guards. A few startled sounds were made as it entered their midst. William, whose palm was still opened, closed his hand into a fist quickly and the ice grenade exploded, razor sharp shards piercing all in it's wake. Men shrieked as they pawed at the ice embedded in their skin.
William opened the doorway, casting Quiet and then lifting a sword from a guard killed in the attack. He dispatched two before the guards rallied, and Kody cast Ripple under their feet to knock them off balance. William waded in striking true with the sword, ending lives with wraith like quickness. One guard had moved behind William and was closing the gap. Kody made Ripple, but it was so powerful that the stone appeared like a fountainhead, spiraling upward, crushing the guard against the stone ceiling. Small bits of stone and ragged flesh rained down, and William grabbed Kody's hand as they ran a few feet down the passageway before stopping and using wind and water to clean as much of the guards away as possible, then they ran towards the barracks.
The initial screams of the guards had attracted attention, and as they sped through the keep and towards the courtyard they could hear some guards coming to check on the contingent to see what may have happened. The first guard was so surprised that William was able to run him through with his sword before he could sound the alarm. Voices could be heard in the passage behind them and they rushed on to the kitchens, barreling past the oaf of a cook and out into the stable yard.
William turned and cast a spell, a very intricate spell from the looks of things. A small, almost invisible spider web of ice formed on the doorway leading out of the kitchen. It was razor sharp they were to discover as the first guard ran headlong into the web, the strands settling heavily into the meaty hands and arms of the guard, then his face pressed in as the guard behind him barreled into him. Kody cast Quiet to quell the screams before the guard had sense to make them, and they ran on to the barracks.
Crossing the courtyard under the cover of darkness they sped, the keep slowly coming to life.
"There!" William pointed breathlessly at a long, low stone building, "The barracks, Kody, knock it down!"
Kody concentrated and cast Ripple, but it was more than a traveling ripple, for it stood fully eight feet high and roared towards the barracks with a grinding noise, deafening in it's thunder. It struck the barracks, lifting and dropping it as if it were a child's toy, the stonewalls and ceiling collapsing on the sleeping or off duty guardsmen.
The barracks was reduced to a dusty ruin; plaintive cries for help could be heard from the rubble of the ruined building. Kody felt sick, but there was no time for his stomach's complaints as guardsmen rounded the corner to investigate the sound of the collapsing barracks.
Lightning forked down from the heavens and landed square in a knot of soldiers, some dying instantly, others running in fear, charred or on fire. The source of the lightning in the clear sky was not readily apparent, but the unmistakable sounds of trumpets sounded the charge of King Corvan's army.
"The gates! We have to bring down the gates!" William shouted as he tugged Kody along behind him through the smoke and cries of running soldiers, drawing ever nearer.
Roland and I emerged into a passage that was deserted. Loud cracks of thunder echoed through the Keep and we emerged onto a parapet where archers were taking up positions on the battlements as the trumpets sounded for the invading army. I called all the wind at my command and hurled my energy at the archers. Men flew form the battlements, screaming in fear and stones lifted to follow them, such was the force of the winds they battled. We approached to see over the battlements and had a clear view of the front gate, probably why Roland brought me this way.
He concentrated Fire on the thick wooden gate, but I knew it would take forever to burn through, time we didn't have. I hardened a block of air and used it like a battering ram, pounding the doors again and again while the lighting continued to fall, striking soldiers inside the Keep's walls.
The front gates flew open, splintering under the force of the clear battering arm at my disposal. Moments later the invading army was through the gates, engaging the depleted Orundian Guardsmen. Lighting continued to fall on the battlements, striking the soldiers from their vantage point. Roland was casting Fire on soldiers in view, but there was little we could do now that they were engaged in hand-to-hand combat. It was obvious in moments that the fight was over, a rout was in progress and we were about to fall into the hands of King Demetral Corvan, for better or worse.
All I could wonder was where William was.
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