Extended Ending, Chapter 39

Chapter Thirty-Nine

The Throne Room

Arius raised his sword to the heavens and then stepped into the hallway with his dragon beside him, the icy chill of the hex slithering into his bones. The dragon obliterated the hallway when it wasn’t wide enough, his rough hide protected by chainmail as it scraped against stone. The black walls steamed and hissed when Guardus ripped them apart with tooth and talon.

Clearly they resent our intrusion, Arius said.  

He cautiously wove around corners, tensing every time a footstep reverberated in the hallway. The ceiling was low, and Guardus was wary of smashing through. There is no way of knowing what might lie in wait above, he reasoned. He dipped his head to avoid scraping the stone with his spikes. The only light came from emerald flames that flickered at varying intervals and from Arius’ sword, which glowed white even in the green illumination.

At last, after many turns, a faint red glow entered the passageway. The throne room must be close, Arius said. His muscles tightened. I must do this for my father, he thought, inhaling. Clenching his jaw, Arius crept forward, inching toward the scarlet luminance. When he reached a dead end, he pushed aside the tapestry that covered the passage and emerged into a spacious room. Guardus plunged through the opening, tearing down much of the wall with a crash.

A maroon carpet ran from the massive doors to the throne. Arius looked around, but there was no one. The tapestry fluttered to the floor in the aftermath of Guardus’ entrance. Arius stumbled for a moment when he saw that it was blank. Then the black outline of a dragon flashed across its surface.

Guardus sniffed the air tentatively. I don’t like it. I smell evil.

Arius was about to answer, when a familiar hollow laugh sounded in the cavernous room.

“So you enter my castle and seek to destroy me,” the voice taunted. Arius whirled about. The sound seemed to come from everywhere, soaking through the walls, drenching through the floor. Another laugh followed the accusation. “I think not, Ryù. You are no greater than the others who failed to defeat me all those years ago. You shall die here, unless you choose to join me. Then you and your dragon shall be spared.”

Arius howled in fury, “Never! You took my family from me, you seek to rule the world with fire and death, and you will never have my fealty!”

Contemno’s voice sighed and said, “Very well. Now you have forced me to kill you. But not before I get your blood and the blood of your beast!” A black figure shimmered into view, sitting on the throne. Arius’ knees grew weak, but he steadily walked down the carpet. Guardus roared, shaking the marble pillars with violent tremors.

Arius heard his own blood pounding in his ears. Unbidden, the dream he had the night Guardus hatched flashed before his eyes along with Galeru’s words: Somewhere in Contemno’s body, Cotias still lives.

 “I know who you are, Cotias. You were an elf once, and I think you can be an elf again, if you want to.”

Contemno jumped at the mention of the name. “Cotias? There is no Cotias here!” he bellowed. “Cotias is long dead, along with any elven blood inside me!”

“No,” Arius persisted. “You can be an elf again. It is the sorcery that corrupts you.” Arius took a step forward, but Guardus growled a warning.

Be careful Arius. He may be too far gone to save.

I must try! Beating him in battle will be nigh impossible.

Contemno’s eyes flashed between Arius and the dragon. “It was a Ryù and his dragon that banished me. It was a simple mistake I made, looking at the wrong page in the wrong book. The words entranced me. I couldn’t get them out of my mind.” He shook his head. “But that is in the past. Now nearly all Ryù have been erased from the world, and the elves will follow! I would have eradicated all the dragon eggs too, but instead I found a better use for them. The wild magic of the unborn lizards supplements my strength more than any spell book!” Contemno’s black eyes glowed feverishly, but Arius thought he saw a small spark of benevolence before it was snuffed out.

“It is not too late, Cotias. You can still be saved,” Arius tried.

Contemno did not yield. “You cannot sway me from my path!” His eyes darkened as his lips curled in a twisted smile. “Maybe this will prove it to you.” He snapped his fingers and a Morgat appeared, dragging a fettered man.

♦ ♦ ♦

Out in the city, one of Kyra’s men asked her, “Can we pursue the fleeing soldiers, Captain?”

Kyra caught her breath, resting her hands against her knees, and said, “No, do not expend your energy. Let us be thankful at least that the fates have granted us this reprieve.”

“Then what shall we do next?” another soldier asked, sheathing his sword.

“We will continue with our original plan and attempt to attack them from the rear while the elves push forward at their front.”

 “Very well,” the soldier answered. “Then let us not linger here! Already these blasted soldiers have consumed valuable time.”

Kyra nodded. “We continue, then.” She climbed over a pile of bodies that rose nearly to her waist, and her soldiers did likewise. Jogging along the street, they continued until they reached the wall that separated the outer and inner cities. The sounds of battle still raged, not far distant. “The elves are sure to be at the gate, trying to break their way through,” she said. “We will follow the wall until we arrive at the gate. If the elves have managed to overcome the barrier, we will join the fight in the inner city. If not, we will aid them by attacking whatever soldiers hinder their advance.”

Hugging the black wall that rose above her head, Kyra trotted stealthily toward the gate whose top was twice as high as the wall itself. The houses were pressed closer together nearer the wall, and were an arm’s length away from the stone bulwark.

Arriving at the still-closed gateway, Kyra looked outward. A mass of Contemno’s soldiers barred the elves from the wall, filling around the homes that were like rocks in the river of men. Although the enemy fell with regularity by the elves’ swords and arrows, it was not enough to clear a path to the gate.

Farther down along the wall, the other sergeant was huddled with his men. Kyra signaled to him and he acknowledged her. Approximately three-quarters of his original force accompanied him. Kyra said to him through thought, We must try to push our way through the soldiers so the elves can have a clear path to the gate. If we form a wedge, we may be able to succeed.

The sergeant answered, Good plan. If we can drive through them on this side, and the elves do likewise on the opposite, they may be able to break through.

Kyra then found Tialdo and told him, We are about to attack the rear of Contemno’s force. We are near the gate. If you can do the same in the front, perhaps our wedges can meet in the center and you can battle your way through to the gate.

For several moments, Tialdo did not answer. Finally, a strained, We will try, reached Kyra.

With a deep breath, Kyra said to her soldiers, “When I give the signal, we will attack the rear guard of Contemno’s force. I am sure there are Morgat somewhere in the fray, but do not let that distract you from your task. We will have a momentary advantage if the soldiers do not see our approach. They are the rear guard, so they will be relaxed and unprepared. Are you ready?”

The soldiers all nodded.

“Then we attack. Go quietly so that our approach may be unnoticed.”

She motioned to the other sergeant, and he and his men moved forward at a crouch.

Kyra moved onto the wide roadway that led to the battle, her sword in hand. As she neared the soldiers, all facing forward, she increased her pace. When she and her men were almost fifty paces away, a loud screech came from behind her.

Whipping around, she looked to the sky. A group of Skulber circled above her, almost twenty strong. Contemno’s soldiers also turned around, and shouted when they saw Kyra and her men. Cursing, Kyra cried, “Forward! Ignore the Skulber, on to battle!”

Her soldiers let loose their surppressed battle calls and plunged into Contemno’s men. Kyra joined them, pushing into the mass of soldiers. She and her men formed a triangle, with her at the point and her soldiers flared out behind her. Steadily, they progressed farther into the thousands-strong force.

Luckily they are focused ahead on the elves, she thought. Only a few soldiers from the rear paid any heed to the Skulber’s cries. She fell back into the empty space that her wedge formed, and another soldier moved forward to replace her at the point.

She looked back toward the Skulber. They dove at her men, but her soldiers hacked at the beasts, severing heads from necks when they came within range. Several bolts of energy also felled a few of the Skulber. Whichever elf spared the time, I give you my gratitude, Kyra offered as silent thanks.

As Contemno’s soldiers began to take notice of the formation in their midst, their confusion spread quickly. Soldiers faced forward, then back, and in their delay were slain by an elf’s arrow or sword. In the distance, the elves began to form themselves into a wedge, and pushed forward into Contemno’s men. Their drive started to split the soldiers down the middle, creating a wave that rippled through the thousands of opposing swords as they spun about in confusion.

“Forward!” Kyra cried above the clamor. “Push now with renewed vigor! The elves have begun to break through!”

Her men redoubled their efforts, and their wedge managed to penetrate almost halfway through the opposing force. Their greatest obstacle was the increase of bodies that threatened to block their passage forward. Several of Kyra’s men tripped over a body and were killed by an enemy’s sword as they stumbled.  

Finally, Kyra’s men met with the elves. Tialdo was at the vanguard of the wedge. He barely spared Kyra a brief nod. Gerad was also beside him, his face contorted with rage as he hacked at any soldier in his path. His sword was smeared with the blood of Contemno’s soldiers, and although he wasn’t as fast as an elf, his ferocity seemed to outweigh his lack of speed. 

After the two forces met, they pushed against the sea of Contemno’s soldiers and created a channel through the enemy. A squadron of spellcasters ran through the breach held open by the swords of the elves and Kyra’s men.

Reaching the black gates, they began to chant in the Forgotten Language, a white aura of energy surrounding them. Contemno’s soldiers attempted to break free of the line of elves that held them in check, but the piling bodies of their comrades helped create a blockade that aided the elves in keeping the soldiers at bay.

The energy surrounding the band of elven spellcasters grew brighter and emitted waves of vibrations that permeated the air.

But before they could release whatever spell they had begun, several Morgat appeared atop the closed gate, their red eyes piercing through plate and mail with terror and hatred. Kyra’s breath caught as she looked upon the black robed creatures. Tialdo! she called. There are Morgat!

I see them, he answered.

Another squadron of spellcasters sprinted toward the gate and linked together, a blue effervescence surrounding them. The Morgat hissed from their perch and began to hurl balls of red flame toward the elves. Their halo deflected the attacks, though, and the flame dissipated. Screeching with an increased intensity, the Morgat renewed their assault, and summoned a bird of flame, akin in characteristics to the Skulber but wreathed in fire and triple the Skulber in size. The animal cried with the same deathly howl that the Morgat emitted and dove at the spellcasters assembled in front of the gate.

The elves surrounded by the blue aura raised their hands toward the beast and a crackling bolt of blue energy burst from their midst and engulfed the flaming bird, encasing it in a field of blue. Like a whip, the tendril of energy still fastened to the group of elves spun the fire bird in a dizzying circle, tossing it about within its imprisoning orb. With a final screech, the bird was let loose and rocketed away from the city.

Kyra let a cry of victory escape her, but her merriment soon evaporated.

The Morgat had not wasted anytime in regrouping. As a stream of harsh sounding words spewed from among them, a cloud of shadow emerged from the heart of each creature, coalescing in the burning air and uniting with the clouds from the other Morgat. The black vapors joined to form a single essence, leaving behind only the cloaks of the former Morgat, now crumpled in abandoned piles. A pair of solid red eyes took shape amid the shadow cloud, and the airy form began to develop into a four-legged beast with two horns protruding from its forehead. A dark tail lashed at the air behind the monstrous creature still hovering above the gate. A snout formed next, and from it the beast breathed a cloud of wasps that swarmed the elves holding Contemno’s soldiers back from the spellcasters. A derisive laughter filled the air, and the creature began to charge through the air toward the spellcasters.

They directed another bolt of blue energy toward the monster, but the beast simply barreled through it, the energy deflected to either side. What can they do? Kyra wondered as the animal grew closer, only seconds away from smashing into the elves.

Tialdo cried, “Draw the fire from the sky! Use it as a shield!”

The spellcasters didn’t spare a moment to acknowledge him before they sent a magical net into the atmosphere, gathering the burning clouds in the sky into a cyclone and bringing it between them and the charging beast. The shadow beast slammed into the tempest of flame and screamed before bursting into a thousand pieces, wisps of shadow fleeing across the land.

At that moment, the other group of spellcasters released their enchantment, and a white glow battled the blackness of the gate until the entire wall shook violently. Stones began to crumble from the ramparts, crashing down and burying themselves in the dirt. The elves’ faces began to bead with sweat, and the second group of spellcasters added their energy to the first.

It seems the ground will swallow the whole wall before the gate opens, Kyra thought.

Then, with a blinding explosion, the black gate burst along its seam, flying inward. The rest of the wall proceeded to collapse, crumbling in a massive wave that spread outward from the destroyed gate. A cheer rose from the elves as legions began to pour into the inner city.

As the last of the squadrons passed through the channel still held open by the elven swordsmen, those who were keeping Contemno’s soldiers back began to withdraw and follow the other elves deeper into the city. The spellcasters helped hold the enemy back so the swordsmen could make their advance. Contemno’s soldiers did not take lightly their evasion and pursued them.

Tialdo ordered several legions of swords, bows, and spellcasters to fight the pursuing soldiers while the other elves proceeded toward the castle.

“They will be kept at bay,” another general answered him.

Tialdo nodded and ran forward with the other troops. 

Kyra beckoned her men to follow also. Now, we find Arius, she thought as she gripped her sword tighter and ran toward the black castle.

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