The Weight Of Joy – Part 4: The Citadel Of Stars
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Dark throbbing pulses threatened to burst Wundan’s head wide open. The next thing he noticed was the smell of burned flesh, shit and smoke, and then the sounds tumbled into his awareness. They were lowly groans of people left for dead, the weeping of those few remaining, the roar of fire . . . and laughter.
Wundan grit his teeth and forced himself to open his eyes. Even muted by thick smoke, the daylight pierced into him like a lance of pain. He winced, shutting his eyes and burying his face into the damp earth, but he tried to get up regardless.
“Oh hey there lookee here lads, the one with spirit has got a bit of nerve to back him up. Help him up!”
Powerful hands grabbed Wundan by the cuff and hauled him to his feet. The throbbing intensified, threatening to knock him back down, but the hands held him in place even as he wretched.
“Yeah, my lad was a bit heavy handed with you I’ll give you that.” Even with blurred vision, Wundan could tell the man—Mull, the bandit leader—was sneering by the sound of his voice. “It’s good for a young man like you, hardens you up to the world. That’s if you survive long enough, that is.”
The bandits laughed in echo to his.
“Mum,” Wundan’s voice was a wavering weed in the breeze, quickly stomped out by passersby.
“Aw boys,” one of the men holding him taunted, “He’s calling for his mummy.”
“Ah that’s sweet, that’s really sweet, do you think she’s still alive?” Mull said.
“That bitch on the pyre sure screamed something fierce when we hit him.”
Pyre? Wundan’s mind raced, A funeral pyre? But she was still alive . . . oh gods. The grief threatened to spill from him like a breaking dam, I was too late.
“Well wake her up then, let’s see if she’s his mumma!”
The dam receded, hope shoring up the cracks in his psyche.
A ringing of metal caused Wundan to jerk up and face the bandit leader as he stalked over to him, knife in hand. He held the tip of the blade to Wundan’s chin, forcing him to look up into the dark terrible eyes of his taunting captor.
“If she is your mother, little whelp, then you should feel relieved. I’ll let her live, if you do one thing for me first.”
Twenty years later
Seria sat silently as Drade stared at the inert portal, motionlessly. He was still in his armour, which pulsed and sparked as the translucent colours cascaded down the ethereal plate like a waterfall. It was mesmerising, and the only sign—to Seria at least—that he was still alive.
It was also terrifying. The sheer fury she had to wield to keep her armour for only a short while was almost too much to bear . . . and he was just, standing there, brimming with torrents of rage without so much as a twitch of muscle.
“How long has he been standing there do you think?” Leppin whispered to her, stroking his long beard.
Leppin, Harahn and Drawg had done a sweep of the Roaming Wall to check for more incorporeal voir. They had ushered the souls into safer chambers as the Fort drifted through the stars, towards the closest sun in order to ferry those souls to the afterlife. The three Knights had only in the last few moments returned from their duties.
“It’s been half a day at least,” Seria said.
“How long are days on your world?” Drawg asked as he scraped filth from his scales with a long talon.
Seria regarded him with a raised brow, “About ten hours, depending on the season.”
“Hmm,” Drawg licked his lips, “How long are hours on your world?”
Seria’s brow furrowed, “I don’t know . . . like, the regular length, I guess?”
Drawg hummed again, seemingly placated and Seria breathed a sigh of relief.
“By the way,” Harahn placed his mighty hands on her tiny shoulders, “You should be very proud of what you accomplished.”
“What do you mean?” Seria suppressed a gasp; Harahn’s hands were large and heavy.
“It usually takes weeks for one to summon their armour, weeks more to be ready to have star forged silver heed their call, and you did it within days.” The orc was chuffed, huffing with admiration for the water nymph.
“AND you wielded them both in combat.” Leppin added. “You’re a mean Knight to fuck with, no mistake.”
“Well,” Seria felt her cheeks grow warm, “Thank you.”
“Not used to praise?” Drawg hissed.
“My people did not like me much, I think. They were calm waters while I was a rapid river, or a crashing wave. The humans on my world called me mean spirited, but I just didn’t let them walk all over me like they did my kind.”
“Heh,” Harahn squeezed her shoulders—causing her to grit her teeth, “You’ll fit right in with us then.”
“Fellow Knight.” Drawg nodded.
“Fellow Knight.” Leppin echoed and tapped her with his fist, his Dwarf stature making the commemorative contact strike her belly.
Seria recoiled and laughed as she wriggled from Harahn’s well meaning but painful grip, and that’s when Drade twitched, spinning on the spot.
Seria cut her laugh short and the other Knights straightened as Drade marched over to them.
“What’s the plan, captain?” Leppin asked.
“We’re approaching the star, something else is approaching it too, something big.” His voice was calm and steady, but his armour flared brightly.
“How do you know?” Seria asked.
Drade jerked his finger over their shoulders to the Star Map room, the edges of the doors were pulsing green and red. “That never happens.”
The Roaming Wall drifted closer to the burning world, a blazing light of harsh warmth and winding coronal waves that jettisoned into the black void. Drade pulled their fortress vessel to rest upon one of these pulsing, looping tendrils and opened the soul gates. The green coloured flow of souls seeped from the fortress like a sieve and spilled into the coronal conduit. The green life force blended with the amber fury of the star and followed the conduit back into the churning surface, to the afterlife, and safety.
“It’s beautiful,” Seria said, “Are all souls are meant to end their journey in the paradise within a star?”
Drade stood by her at the opening of the main gate. “All souls have the potential to fuel their home star. They are provided a place of safety and joy to live out the rest of existence and in turn their power breathes life into the worlds that inhabit their system. It is as things should be; reciprocal, warm, joyful. That was the plan, at least.”
Drade shrugged, “Whatever made the Sun Guardians. Whatever it is though, as powerful as it must be, it is no match for the vicissitudes of life. Some souls are deemed unworthy of the cycle, marred by evil deeds, or a lack of good ones. They are rejected and roam the dark void to be preyed upon, which then fuels more violence against the living from Voir. It makes no sense for one so powerful to maintain such cruel, inefficient ways. And then there are the souls that are lost through no fault of their own.” Drade breathed harshly through gritted teeth.
“Then why do you serve them?” Seria asked, “What catastrophe brought you into the Knights Cosmic?” Drade didn’t answer, the pulses of the flaring star reflective of his translucent, technicoloured armour with a burning thrum, “. . . Captain?”
“It was the only way I could find to . . .” he didn’t finish the thought; instead he breathed deep and let his shoulders sag. “It was the only way to ensure I could keep a promise, and even then, I failed.”
The green hue of the soul flow ceased, to be replaced by the pure amber warmth of the star. “I will always be strong enough to save the next person.”
Seria understood now why his armour still raged, “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Don’t be. It was my fault she died.” Drade said.
“The person you lost, was she your wife?” Seria asked, tentatively.
A loud, dull tone echoed throughout the Roaming Wall.
“That tone sounded from Leppin’s watch tower, on the bottom of the Wall!” Drade turned from Seria and stormed through to the Common Nexus. Seria struggled to keep up with him. “Summon your armour, Knight!” he ducked through a door and took a spiralling staircase down into the depths of the Star Fort.
Seria tried to still her fretting mind as Leppin sounded another low, ominous tone from the warning bell. She dug deep to find her fury, and found it fleeting, “Fuck.” Still, she charged down the steps after her captain.
Half way down the spiralling stone staircase she stumbled as a wave of vertigo passed over her. She was still powering down the stairs, but it seemed to her that she was now travelling upwards. The paradoxical nature threatened to tear her mind asunder when a door a landing below—or, well, above?—opened and Drawg scurried out of it. He had summoned his armour over his serpentine features, creating a sleek angular design. It was easy to tell which way he was looking. When he looked at her in greeting, the stairs reoriented themselves in her mind. She was now definitely marching up the stairs, even though she had not turned around.
“What the hell is going on?” she said, grabbing her head and steadying herself with her other hand on the wall.
“Heh,” Drawg hissed a laugh, “In the void between worlds, there is no true up or down. The Star Fort’s magic has reoriented you as we are now heading to the top of the ‘lower tower’. Fret not, water nymph; it takes some getting used to.” He took her by the hand with his talons and guided Seria the rest of the way up the lower tower.
They exited onto a lookout that jettisoned from the underside of the cascading, tiered crenulations of starlit stone. Leppin, Harahn and Drade stood there, already in full plate armour, looking out to a colossal structure that emerged from the abyss into the sun’s light.
“That’s the Star Citadel!” Drawg gasped.
“The Knights Council has come to us.” Leppin grinned through his open visor.
“No.” Drade gripped the railing with quivering hands, “It’s in ruins. Prepare for battle.”
It took the remainder of the day for the Citadel and the Roaming Wall to sail within boarding distance. Not that the passing of a day mattered, the sun was still close by, pulsing with brilliant amber fire. It seemed to face them, Seria thought; the sun had turned so that the so called Sun Guardians could view this strange event.
But she was sure that was her imagination.
Their Star Fort was huge by all accounts, but it was dwarfed by the sheer size of the Citadel.
The Roaming Wall drifted over the plaza of the gargantuan, floating structure—it was a vast paved courtyard which was decorated with an array of alien plants. It jettisoned out from the body of the Citadel like a welcoming landing platform. Only it was dark, the lamp lights inert, and was marred by signs of great conflict. The watchtower protruding from the bottom of their Roaming Wall was inverted compared to the Citadel, so the Knights now looked up at the courtyard as if it was a ceiling.
“Seria,” Drade growled, “Your armour.”
“I’m trying.” Seria tried to channel that fire, sweat poured from her like flowing water. The feeling of water she understood, not fire, which she now needed. The only time she understood and channelled fire was when she witnessed the obliviation of innocent souls.
“Then I can’t risk you going in with us.” Drade said, placing his hand on her shoulder. “This is nothing to be ashamed of, you are not yet ready to face what even the Council failed to quell.”
“But . . .”
“But nothing! I will not lose more members of my squadron needlessly.”
Seria faltered, the star forged spear in her unarmoured hands seemed to wane in her grip.
“Fret not, little nymph.” Drawg hissed, “You’re only a new Knight. It takes a while for a hatchling’s scales to harden.”
“Stand watch, Sir Seria Wish.” Drade nodded, staring at her though his visor, his eyes hard with the fury he was channelling, but dulled by his soft intent. “You’ll be our backup.”
“Aye,” Harahn laughed, “I’ll see a worm down there and scream in fright. Ignore that, and wait for two screams before charging in to save us.”
Leppin and Harahn laughed, and the four Knights launched from the watch tower—Leaving Seria on her own as they soared on pillars of Prismatic Fire. Halfway between the Citadel and the Star Fort, they flipped over, so that when they landed they were oriented properly.
Seria watched sullenly as they marched wearily across the courtyard, up the steps and through large, blue steel doors into the Citadel proper.
“Knight.” Drawg pointed to a dim, dull armoured body within the entrance hall.
The room was dim too, marred by gouged stone on the floors and ceiling from conflict, furniture was overthrown, blood and viscera lined the surfaces.
Harahn marched over to the inert corpse and crouched over it. “Sir Nurol,” he grunted, “She was Captain of the Citadel’s forces.”
“So she too was denied her soul’s honour.” Drade said evenly. “Move on, into the Council chamber.”
The four Knights marched on, through the entrance hall and up a wide flight of stone stairs that were flanked by titanic pillars that reached into the imperceptible ceiling. Between the pillars were open passageways to other rooms, starlit by wide open windows on either side and in equal ruin compared to the rest of the structure. A sinister clicking permeated the area, a sound like shards of ice breaking and sliding over eaves to strike hard ground. It was accompanied by the slow squelch of viscous stuff sliding over gravel.
“Voir.” Leppin said.
“There must be many to make such noise.” Harahn said as they reached the top of the stairs and found the Council chamber doors. They were thick oak and adorned with embossed gold and platinum patterns depicting the Sun Guardians and Knights Cosmic in alliance.
“No,” Drade looked down the adjacent gloomy corridors, deep in thought, “There’s just one voir here right now.”
“How could it make such noise?” Harahn wondered.
“It’s enormous.” Drade turned back to his squadron. “Open the doors.”
Harahn nodded and barged through the door into the Council chamber, and what they saw made them freeze in horror.
Seria paced the watchtower and bit at her nails, looking up at the once magnanimous superstructure of the Citadel—now a titanic, derelict corpse. The Knights had been in there for a while now, with no signs of movement, until . . .
A colossal wormlike creature slithered out from crumbling crenulations, its gelatinous mass spilled onto the courtyard plaza with a sickening squelch. Seria gasped and ducked behind the wall of the lookout. It was a voir, twice, maybe three times as big as the monstrosity that had attacked her city on her world. It wriggled across the courtyard, aided by the pull of hundreds of spindly legs, leaving a putrescent trail of grime in its wake, and looked up at Seria with an eyeless gaze.
Its circular mouth gaped and closed, sucking at the void between them both.
Seria tried to steady her rattling heart, tried to take a full breath of air, tried to focus on her fury and summon her armour, but to no avail. She was simply too terrified, and there was no one in danger to save this time—other than herself . . . she was not a good a motivator for her Prismatic Fire as she would like to be.
She huddled into a ball and waited for it to attack, to launch itself through the ether and to smash her watch tower to bits. But no attack came. Cautiously, she craned her neck to look over the balustrade. The hideous voir gaped back at her, its impossible sight switching between the Roaming Wall and some point out in space. Seria dared to follow its gaze and her heart fluttered with relief, it was another Star Fort.
Only as it drew closer, it was clearly just as damaged and decrepit as the Citadel was. It drifted down to the courtyard—right way up—and hung over the pavers with a dainty grace that did not match the structure. The voir writhed out of its way and reared to strike, but hesitated.
The drawbridge on the new Star Fort lowered and a single Knight strode out. A woman by the looks of it, a human woman, with a star forged bastard sword in tow.
The beastly voir slithered down, bringing its insidious maw to bear, but it slowed, and the new Knight walked around it, more annoyed by its presence than anything. She stalked past the creature and up the entrance steps, disappearing into the structure unmolested. After a moment, the voir curled over the edge of the courtyard and slithered out of sight on the other side of the Citadel.
“That Knight,” Seria rose from her hideout as she pieced the story together in her fear addled mind, “If the portals weren’t opening, if the Star Citadel had fallen . . . that could only mean there was a traitor in the Knights’ midst.” Seria’s fear dissipated like fog in the wind, replaced by kindling fury. “That Knight is a traitor, there’s no other explanation, and my comrades won’t have any idea. They’re walking into a trap!”
The kindling ignited, and she allowed the paradoxical sensation of flowing flame throughout her body and soul. It ignited out of the pores of her skin and solidified as pulsing, Prismatic Armour.
The star forged spear relaxed into her fingers and she launched from the watch tower on a pillar of fire, hurtling for the imposter, hurtling to save her squadron, to save Drade.
Drade rushed from the doors into the ruined Council chamber, over which their commander was hoisted by the wrists on sinewy cords. His armour was cracked open, his fur and skin had been peeled back—he had been tortured—and his head hung low with blood dripping out of his lion’s maw.
“Are you alive?” Drade leaped onto the star map table, his feet sloshing through the arcane waters as he took his former leader’s face in his hands, stroking fingers through his mane.
Boln’s head lulled to one side, mumbling incoherently.
“Many of these portals are smashed,” Leppin was circling around the long map table as Harahn took the other side, Drawg guarded the door.
“I see slime trails going through most of them. Yuck,” Leppin scraped the underside of his boot on a chair, trying to remove some of the gooey material he had just squelched over. “The Star Forts were attacked from the inside, from here.”
Drade glanced around the high chamber, finding the cracked and inert bodies of one other commander and the Knight General. Boln’s brother—Sir Rorc, who Drade had carried in not days ago—was discarded by the wayside.
“There should be a third body,” Drade said as he cut Boln’s bindings and lowered him gently into the water. “Stay with me Boln, stay with me.”
“I won’t, betray, my Knights.” Boln whimpered.
“Shh,” Drade stroked his mane, “It’s okay, commander, you didn’t break.” I think.
“No other bodies here; a bit of voir stuff, there was quite a battle.” Harahn grunted. “As far as I can tell, they poured through this portal.” He gestured to one that was slightly less damaged than the others.”
“That one leads to our Star Fort.” Leppin said. “Drade . . . you were the last one to use it.”
Drade snapped to look at the portal, wondering.
“It was not Drade.” Boln coughed, spluttering blood and bile which clung to his fur. “Sorcerer, a sorcerer hijacked your conduit as you left.” His words were muffled.
“Sir Boln, do you know where you are?” Drade asked.
“Yes, what will soon be my tomb,” he smiled weakly, revealing bleeding gums and cracked or missing teeth.
“Gods . . .” Drawg stepped over, “What did they do to you?”
“He tried to make me send a message to all surviving Knights, have them congregate far away from the coming incursion . . . once the Voir had a foothold, they would be unstoppable.”
“Who tried?” Drade still stroked his mentor’s mane.
“The gargoyle . . .” Boln’s eyes widened with the word, but quickly relaxed, “He tried to control my mind, but I resisted. So he resolved to use more crude means. If he really wanted to break me, he would have shaved my mane.” The lion knight laughed but the weak sound was soon replaced by pained gasps. “Don’t know where he is. Drade, he’s imbuing the Voir with necromancy of some kind, letting them siphon the dead souls even after they take physical form. There is no limit to how large they can become.”
“That’s not right.” Drade said. “Voir are mindless beasts, carrion feeders searching for drifting souls, nothing more.”
“He has tamed them. Drade, his necromancy has been cast over us all. Kill him, and the Knights whose souls should be escorted to the sun worlds will have their honour . . . they’re still bound to their armour, they have not been consumed, yet.”
“How do you know all of this?” Drade asked.
“When he tried to take my mind, he used pressure points, emotional triggers . . . there was some truth to his promises. He said he would free my brother from his armour. But I saw his promises for the manipulations they were. He would never uphold them.” Boln reached up and grabbed Drade’s helm with surprising strength, “Don’t trust him, Drade. He will worm into your mind, you must resist.”
“Okay,” Drade gently pried Boln’s paws from his helm, “But we need to get you out of here.”
“No, my time is done. Drade, you must stop the gargoyle, stop the Voir, before it’s too late.”
“Where will they be?”
Drade’s spine grew cold, the world where everything changed for him.
“Don’t let your past, control you.” Boln murmured, his eyes rolling back into his head.
“I won’t, Sir Boln . . .” Drade pulled a dagger from his boot. “Rest now, Lion Knight.” He jammed the blade into Boln’s heart.
Boln cried out weakly, but his suffering ceased, and his body went limp.
Leppin, Harahn and Drawg stood tall, and saluted their commander.
“So,” they rounded on a new voice from the doorway, “If it isn’t the upstart Knight.”
“Commander Shrath,” Drade drew the words from his lips as if he had drawn blood from stone, “You survived.” His grip tightened on the blade in his hands, the one dripping with his commander’s blood.
“Aye, I fled as the voir poured through the portal you opened.” Shrath hissed.
“It was not him,” Harahn stepped between the table and Shrath. “Boln just said that the gargoyle cast magic to splice himself into the conduit. Perhaps that is something you would understand if you had fought and died alongside your comrades.”
“Hmm,” Shrath shrugged, “In any case, there is work to be done. My squadron barely fended off the enemy as they breached our Star Fort. I came here to send out a warning to all other Knights.”
A warning sounded deep within Drade’s mind. But he was still gripping the body of his saviour and mentor. He lowered him gracefully into the waters and stepped off the table. “Where is this magic that will allow you to communicate with all Knights Cosmic? I would like to be the one to send out the warning.”
Shrath laughed. “You are only a lowly captain. If you were to access the magic it would only let you speak to your own Knights. Only a general or a commander can speak to all within the order.”
“Then I shall escort you,” Drade said, “You never know where the enemy may attack next.”
Shrath stared Drade down, her clear blue eyes battling with the stoic, cascading visage of his captain’s helm. “Very well, your Knights should guard the entrance hall, in case any other enemies are about.”
Drade turned to his Knights and nodded. They filtered out of the room and into the entrance hall as Shrath gestured down a side passage, “This way, noble knight.”
Drade gestured her to go first, and she acquiesced.
Seria landed upon the courtyard with a clank and swore. She crouched low behind a fungus like shrub and listened for the beast that writhed around the bottom of the Citadel. The hissing, chittering motion did not shift or change. She was undetected, for the moment.
So she leaped silently from shrub to shrub, landing with squelching plops as she squished moist bodies or trod over soft petals. It was a danger that her armour felt so light and granted such power to her movements, she had to resist the ease of motion and the raging fury she was channelling in order to sneak to the entrance hall with minimal sound.
By the time she reached it, with another leap and an assisting burst of Prismatic Fire, she found three of her comrades reacting defensively to her entry.
“Seria?” Harahn chuffed. “Your armour is shining bright!”
“Where is she?” Seria cried, a little too loudly. “The Commander Knight, where did she go? Where is Drade?”
“Commander Shrath? She and Drade are heading to a room that communicates with all Knights. Why?”
“Because there’s a big fuck off voir wriggling around out there and it let her pass!” she jerked her thumb over her shoulder.
The chitinous, sliding motion intensified as something loomed in the outer windows and burst through the stony portals with a screeching roar. It filled the room and reared to strike down at them.
Drawg leaped into action first. He sped under the creature’s insidious legs and slid as he slashed up with his blade, tearing a ghastly rend in the putrid flesh that spilled white guts and mucus from its innards.
The smell was similar to rotting fish carcasses on the shore . . . Seria swallowed the vomit that inevitably rose and it burned her throat on the way back down.
“We’ll deal with the voir.” Leppin leaped high on a burst of Prismatic Flame and struck at the creature’s head. It flinched from the blow and swatted him from the air with a mass of limbs.
“Warn the captain!” Harahn bellowed as he charged in with his battle axe.
Seria nodded and sped from the entrance hall, tearing deep into the Citadel through random corridors that shone dully with waning star light in the stone walls. The battle raged behind her, with thundering impacts sending granules of rubble falling from the ceiling on her path. The shuddering crashes were accompanied by the cries of her comrades and the hideous shrieking of the monstrous voir.
“Where the hell am I going?” Seria fretted, as she tore down the hallways she decided to let her fury guide her.
Some corridors were lit with more speckled light than others. She decided to take that as a sign that the Prismatic Fire was guiding her, or the Sun Guardians, or that she was terrified and wanted to stick to the brighter corridors. It did not really matter, she would search every inch of this accursed place to save Drade if she had to.
The rumbling crash gave Drade and Shrath pause as they entered the crystal chamber.
“Your Knights have found the enemy,” Shrath said, “We better make this quick.” She strode into the room.
It was a hexagonal chamber lined with black stone; each corner sported a pillar of star forged metal that pulsed like the throbbing of a heart. Against the fall wall of the chamber was a dais with a perfectly formed orb of crystal placed upon it. It danced with nebulous light.
Shrath swung the door half open as she strode in, it groaned shut after her and Drade had to bar it with his free arm as he followed her in.
“So, how does this work?” He asked, restless angst creeping into his voice.
“Well, the crystal orb ignites with Prismatic Fire at the touch of a commander or general of the order. Once that is done, all Knights, no matter how far flung across the cosmos, will hear the voice of any who places their hands on the orb.”
“Good, now tell them to get to Trist, and we . . .” Drade quieted, all the hairs on his skin standing on end.
“What is wrong, Sir Knight?” Shrath placed her hands on the orb, it flared with stellar brilliance.
“That rasping . . .” Drade spun and brought his weapon to bear on the space on the other side of the door, but found nothing.
“Perceptive, for a frontline brute,” Shrath chuckled.
“But not perceptive enough.” The rasping voice came from the ceiling.
Drade brought his weapon up to guard against the intruder, finding a hideous winged beast hanging by its foot claws, the gargoyle.
As Drade readied to battle the enemy above, he did not notice Shrath had charged him from in front. She propelled herself forward on pillars of Prismatic Fire, ready to skewer the exposed chest of Drade as his attention was drawn upwards.
From outside the chamber, there was a flash of Prismatic light in challenge to Shrath’s. Seria charged in, thrusting with her spear between Drade’s arm and side to pierce the traitor.
Shrath cursed, ducked, and rolled. She slammed through the walls her momentum was so great. And she tumbled through the empty hallways of the Citadel.
Drade ducked the other way, dragging Seria long with him, as the gargoyle conjured an amber flame in his claws to smite them.
“That Knight is a traitor!” Seria yelled, froth boiling unseen at the corners of her mouth. “She did this!”
The gargoyle spread its terrible wings and descended on them; with a battering blow it knocked Seria aside and dug its claws into Drade’s armour. With a celestial screeching the armour resisted the obsidian talons. Drade bellowed in defiance and grabbed his enemy’s wrists, wrenching and slamming him into the wall.
“Make sure Shrath doesn’t lead out Knights astray!” Drade ordered. “Pursue her and keep her from the orb. I will deal with this devil!”
Seria stumbled to her feet without a word and grabbed her spear, launching after Shrath through the hole she had made in the wall.
Drade turned on his enemy, who stood, dusting off his wings and staring back at the Knight with black, lifeless eyes.
“Captain,” his voice was like a rolling earth quake, “I was not expecting such resistance from you.”
“Who are you?” Drade circled around the gargoyle, placing himself between it and the orb.
“I am Vurrel Maym,” he hissed, then he splayed his claws and they sparked with amber flame, “And I am the sorcerer that will break the Knights Cosmic!”
“I have treated with sorcerers before. You will fall like all the rest.”
“Aye, perhaps, but you have never fought one such as me!” Vurrel snarled and leaped, splaying his wings and summoning a mighty torrent which threatened to launch Drade against the far wall.
In response, Drade flourished his sword and embedded it in the ground, gripping onto it to anchor him in place. That’s when Vurrel leaped for a high tackle, slamming into Drade’s neck with his wing’s shoulder and all the considerable weight behind it. Drade made a guttural sound and fell back, losing grip of his blade as he was driven into the ground.
Vurrel pinned him in place with his foot claws and rose to his full height, towering over the human Knight. He raised his muscular stone-like limbs into the air and conjured a pulsing cloud of red and yellow power. With a roar he slammed the spell into Drade’s pinned form. His cosmic armour flared in protest, but waned, cracking at the seams and letting some of the foul power channel into his flesh, causing him to writhe in pain.
“You are strong,” Vurrel said, conjuring another, and another ball of sorcery to slam into the helpless Drade. “But even a stone must succumb to constant rain eventually. I am not the rain, though, little Knight, I AM THE HURRICANE!” Vurrel spread his wings and conjured wind and lighting into the room as he channelled a colossal ball of sorcery above him. “My purpose shall be fulfilled!”
Drade summoned what fury he could—which was much—but he could not dislodge his attacker. He gritted his teeth in a set snarl and waited for the final blow to come.
Seria slammed into Shrath before she could right herself and flourish her curved scimitar around to bear on the enraged water nymph. Seria drover her shoulder into the traitor and they crashed through another wall, sprawling out across a large chamber . . . it was the council room.
“What’s this?” Shrath picked herself up and danced around the inert portals as Seria tore after her with wild thrusts and swings from her spear. “A water nymph? What are you going to do? Splash me!”
Seria retorted with another wail of rage, Shrath’s taunting cry adding to her fury. With a blast of blinding light she broke through one of the portal supports and swiped with her spear, bludgeoning Shrath in the side and sending her tumbling again.
Shrath reacted quickly, rolling out of a stumble and swiping at Seria’s legs as she tried to press the advantage. Seria copped the blade in her knee joint and collapsed on that leg, only halting from falling over completely by bracing on her spear like a staff. Shrath flourished her scimitar and made to lop Seria’s head off, aiming for the chink in the armour between helm and pauldron.
Seria gasped and focused on her innate ability, morphing her flesh into water form. Despite her raging Prismatic Fire, her body responded in time and the blade passed through her neck as if cutting through a waterfall. Seria reformed a moment later, unharmed.
Shrath swore and faltered back as Seria lunged forward, driving her spear into Shrath’s chest plate. With a spark and crackle the translucent armour dulled as the spear tip dug in and caught. Using the caught spear as a driving force, Seria rammed the helpless Shrath into the star map table. As the traitorous commander was slammed into it, the waters within the rim sloshed, sending dancing starlight across the dim blue room.
Seria wrenched the spear free and whirled it around to strike another blow, but Shrath recovered quickly despite having the wind knocked form her and dashed under Seria’s reach. She whacked Seria’s helm with the flat of her scimitar blade, sending a dull, disorienting ring that reverberated within the nymph’s skull. Seria cursed and faltered, too distracted to morph her form into water as Shrath then slashed at the chink in her armour at the elbow.
Another concussive blow to the faltering Seria and another swipe to another chink in her armour had her on the defensive. She receded on the back foot. Each successive swipe from Shrath added to her rage, but not to her Prismatic Fire. This was frustration, not righteous fury. She could not calm her mind enough and focus in order to channel her fire or let her water powers flow. Shrath had found her weakness, broken her fighting style, and now pressed the advantage.
The one sided bout travelled down the star map table towards the balcony exit on the far side of the room. The eternal, celestial night beckoned with dancing stars, watching the warriors do battle. As they reached table’s end, Seria suffered another blow and gripped the table for support, that’s when Shrath spun and hook kicked her across the face. The force of the blow was enough to send Seria over the corner of the table and to end up sprawled on the stone ground, by the balcony’s beckoning opening.
Shrath laughed and leaped onto the table, sloshing through the waters and holding Seria’s stolen spear aloft in victory. “This spear was too grand a weapon for a water rat like you.”
Seria spat blood, broken, bleeding and turned to face her fate.
The voir screeched as Harahn stabbed its head from a top perch, it reared and slammed him into the ceiling—sending him falling to the ground—as Drawg and Leppin swooped in and hacked at its legs and belly. It was withering under their constant attacks, it would soon fall.
Harahn recovered from his fall, channelled Prismatic Fire into the plate of his arm, and launched up to strike the creature in the head with a mighty blow from his axe . . .
The gargoyle Vurrel made to slam his finishing spell into the defenceless Drade, but the ceiling collapsed on him at the last moment. The three Knights Cosmic dispatched the terrible voir and sent its withering corpse barrelling through the Citadel. Vurrel was half crushed under the collapse, only his one wing shielding him from death as his spell dissipated on the ground next to Drade.
Drade wriggled out of the gargoyle’s half buried clutch and crawled for the orb. He had to get some kind of message out.
He reached out with fingertips, about to caress the clear crystalline surface that danced with starlight . . .
Vurrel bellowed, “NO!” the gargoyle reached out with his claw even as the roof threatened to bury him, and conjured more crimson magic that shot straight into Drade’s heart. “You will OBEY me!”
Drade screamed, the magic tried to dominate his will, breaking down his walls, overrunning core memories and goals and wants and desires, and settling on one deep dark hidden secret that even Drade was surprised he possessed.
With tears streaming down his face, Drade screamed in defiance, the will to give in to that dark impulse was all consuming. His fingers touched the orb in his madness, and he was connected to the minds of his squadron . . . his team . . . his family.
Within an instant he overthrew the gargoyle’s manipulative magic tendrils and gripped onto the orb fully. He could only talk to his own squadron, such was the way the Knights were designed, but he got a hold of Rafek’s and Arachton’s minds . . . he told them with instantaneous thought what they had to do, despite the challenges they faced, and then the connection winked out.
Drade turned on the gargoyle, sword gripped in hand. “You will not control me like you have done others, sorcerer.”
“Oh, Captain.” Vurrel slipped out from the crumbling ruin, the dust cloud shrouding him from sight. “You have no idea how many more ways I can break your will.” He spread his black taloned claws and stepped forward to fight, but then the other Knights cosmic streaked into the room from the rendered ceiling.
Vurrel cursed and knocked them back with a spell of blue lightening before launching himself out of the hole, tearing through the corridors to flee the overwhelming odds.
“So that was the enemy?” Leppin asked, panting.
But Drade was already stalking past him, “Seria is in danger!”
Shrath hefted the spear to throw it at the defeated water nymph and end her life. There was a commotion behind—the voir’s body barrelling through several layers of ancient Citadel—and Shrath paused to look over her shoulder. The star speckled water sloshed around her heels, wavering through planets and constellations, and that was all the time Seria needed.
She whirled her hand, taking control of the only water nearby—the star map’s—and spun it into a whirlpool that gripped Shrath’s feet, then her legs, then her hips. Seria spun her enemy and lifted Shrath from the table before she could even gasp, launching her through the balcony window to slam on the platform’s rim with savage force.
Shrath was now splayed out on the floor, on the edge of eternity with the starlit abyss spread out before her.
Her Prismatic Plate was shattered and went inert. Through coughing and spluttering Shrath found herself bruised, bleeding and broken from the cosmic fuelled impact of celestial waters commanded by a nymph.
She reached feebly for her sword, but it whipped out of her grip, flying into Seria’s hands along with her spear. The magic of the Sun Guardians had finally abandoned the traitor.
“Why?” Seria stalked over to Shrath as the human crawled back to the edge of the balcony platform. “You are a Knight Cosmic, these people are you kin, your brothers and sisters, and you betrayed them, you betrayed the oath you took and those your leadership was meant to safeguard, why?”
Shrath’s voice was feeble, trembling, “The gargoyle whispered into my mind. He promised me that if I served him, he could bring my son back to me.”
Seria hesitated, standing over the weeping woman. “What?”
“The gargoyle serves something, something that the Guardians fear. He told me that if we defeated them on his master’s behalf, he told me my boy would live.”
“And you believed him?”
“No! His magic spoke to my desires, I could not resist, no one could.”
Drade and his Knights tore through the balcony to find Seria standing over Shrath. Shrath stood as their coming broke Seria’s concentration.
“I know my treachery cannot be forgiven.” Shrath said, “But I just needed someone to understand.” She spread her arms, and fell over the edge of the platform, descending into the eternal night of space.
“She killed herself?” Seria asked breathlessly.
“And not pleasantly either,” Leppin whistled. “As soon as she falls past the magic barrier, her body will kind of . . . well the void does things to ya.”
“Drade!” Harahn came running out. “The gargoyle escaped, he took Shrath’s Star Fort.”
Drade nodded, stoic as always, but his armour wavered under the dark thoughts the gargoyle had unearthed. “The enemy had been forced to make their move. We need to get to Trist.”
“What is at Trist?” Seria asked.
“If we fail, it will be the place the cosmos ends . . .”
Final Part Out Next Fortnight.
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