Chapter 28: THE RULER'S SWORD
Prince Thomas emerged from the castle with his knights in full fury. He could not see his brother, the necromancer or her brother, but he knew they were clear on the other side of the Kingdom. Between his guards and them was a town in disarray and who-knows-how-many skeletons wreaking havoc on everything around them. Thomas knew the danger was real, and that he was placing himself in the middle of it all, but he also knew that there was never a time in his recent memory that the people needed him as much as they currently did, and this was a perfect time to show them who he was and what he could do.
Besides, he was trained by the best, and had the best swordsman, Corson, right by his side.
As soon as they emerged from the castle, their quest was apparent. Townspeople ran from doorway to doorway, black bones constructing skeletons ambling behind them, hands outstretched, feet burying in the dirt of Springborough. Some skeletons stumbled in the puddles of mud that the sun was having a time soaking up from last night’s storm even though the day was well into the afternoon. Almost evening, Thomas thought as the sun was no longer high in the sky but more on its way down, angling into his eyes. He could still clearly see the enemy as it was black as death with the earth tone world behind them.
He stuttered at first, never once having slashed at anything before. Sure, he tried to strike his instructor during his lessons, knowing full well that he’d only be lucky to catch Corson off his guard, so he never had the fear that he might actually harm him. In Fortis, Corson had handled all the violence, and as Thomas watched, his leadership out of the castle waned, and his knights moved past him to show him what had to be done.
Swords immediately fell, slicing through bones, and the skeletons fell in heaps of dust and soot. A simple slash could take off a leg bone, but that didn’t stop the skeleton from being a threat as they would claw and find other ways to try to keep moving. The knights would swing and slash, creating multiple different sections of bones, but it was only when either the rib cage or the skulls were destroyed that the skeletons were not only dead, but fully dead, and no longer a threat. The trick, it seemed, was to kill the skeletons before they got too close, where one couldn’t swing a sword. Or to not harm a villager that a skeleton was currently on and clawing at.
Corson was first, and as he always was, raising the sword above his head, holding it firm with two hands, and slashing down through the skeletons collarbone, through their rib cages, and cutting all the way from shoulder to hip, completely disseminating the entire core of the evil creatures, and sending them to the ground. It looked so simple and effortless, and yet Corson’s muscles were glistening already at the effort, and the man was running on to the next one- slash- and the next one- slash. Pretty soon the sword instructor was a couple buildings down the road and disappearing into the crowds.
The guards were doing the same, naturally splitting up as the sight of the next skeleton took them to different places. Pretty soon, through his hesitation, Thomas was a lone swordsman in the street, staring around at the chaos that was momentarily calm after the Springborough’s knights had done their duties. Activity was everywhere to the point that it seemed to have swallowed up the army he’d just left the castle with.
“Help me!” A woman shouted from a nearby hut. “Somebody!”
Thomas looked toward the doorway where the screams were coming from. He looked about the street to see if anybody else heard the pleas for help, but quickly realized he was the only one. He waited another moment to make sure what he heard was true, that someone was really in distress.
A loud shrill scream was confirmation, so he grasped his sword tighter, swallowed his fear, and headed into the dark doorway.
He found another skeleton on top of a woman, pinning her down, one of the bony hands at her neck, gripping it tight while the other hand was clawing at her stomach. It had ripped through the cloth of her shirt, and was beginning to tear at her skin. A little blood had begun to drip from the slash marks. The woman screamed every time she was able to punch the hand at her throat away, but it was apparent the fight was tiring her. Who knows how long she and this attacking structure of bones had been going at it, but it was apparent the skeleton was getting the upper hand.
Thomas swung his sword, conscience that he could not hit the woman, so his glance only nicked the spine of the skeleton. Whatever was coating the bones black was the only layer of the creature he got through as he saw his blow create a sliver of white. Maybe the creature had a nervous system, or maybe it heard the sword on its bone, but either way, Thomas got its attention and it turned to look at him. To gaze at him with its empty eye sockets, its jaw lowering to growl, but without lips, just looked way too open for the simple sound it created.
“Come on, you,” Thomas said.
The woman looked surprise that someone came to her aid, let alone that it was the twelve year old prince whose sword seemed to be half the size of him. Thomas stepped back, giving him more room to swing, but the skeleton closed the gap quickly and was on top of the boy in a moment. Even being just bones, the skeleton carried with it a surprising strength. As soon as it had Thomas in its grip, Thomas felt his feet leaving the ground, and his back slamming against the dirt, the sword knocked from his hand as all the wind seemed to leave his lungs.
Closer up, the skeleton was even more ugly than assumed. From afar, it appeared like it was just a complete set of moving, dark bones, but as Thomas wrestled with it he could see the singed pieces of flesh still clinging to places, the rotting pieces of cartilage between its bones. He could feel that the skeletons weren’t dry or dusty, but actually covered in a tar-like goo which made them hard to grasp, and slimy to wrestle with. And the strength, obviously the mobility of the bones was created by some kind of evil force, but the force itself was permeating off the skeleton and currently pinning Thomas to the ground to the point the boy couldn’t move.
He didn’t mean to, but he was letting fear overtake him.
The woman, for all she was worth, tried to help the prince by jumping on the skeleton’s back, but it made short work of her by lashing out behind it with its arm, striking her in the cheek with a hard elbow, and throwing her across the room to the wall where her body fell to the ground. Thomas looked over at her, hoping she was going to continue to distract the skeleton, to give him some time, maybe a chance, to get out from under it, grab his sword, and make as quick work of this one as Corson did outside. But, the woman was knocked out, or dead. Thomas couldn’t tell which.
Either way, she was not moving, and the young Prince could not rely on her.
He reached up, grabbing the skeleton by the skull, his fingers finding purchase in the eye sockets, and his palm covering up the hole where the nose would be. It only looked like the skull was seeing as his fingers did not seem to bother the sight of the skeleton at all. The evil being grabbed the Prince by the sides of the head, lifting it and throwing it down into the dirt, trying its best to knock him out. A couple more slams, and Thomas knew it would be all over. He didn’t know precisely what the skeletons wanted, but it had to do something with digging into the humans stomachs. He only assumed once he was incapacitated, this skeleton would begin using its sharp fingers to dig into his gut, for whatever dark, evil reason.
Thomas punched out, his ring burying itself into the skull’s cheek. The punch itself didn’t seem to do much. It was one of the first, full out effort punches that Thomas ever threw in his life, so it wasn’t a knock out, especially because the Prince was punching up, but it did seem as if the ring had an effect, an energy that zapped the cheekbone, sending a shock through the skeletal figure.
The skeleton paused on its hunches, and grabbed Thomas’ hand, the hand with the ring, and inspected the ruler’s fingers. It looked at the ring, the fight pausing for a second. Thomas tried to get his hand back, but it was of no use. With both bony hands wrapped around his left wrist, its weight down on his hips, the skeleton inspected the ring, his ring, the ring with all of its invisible, Thomas-didn’t-know-if-it-was-real-or-imaginary power.
It certainly got the skeleton’s attention.
And just as quickly as the fight paused, the skull opened up its tar black jaws, and with a row of sharp teeth, attempted to chomp down on Thomas’ hand, to remove the ring with its teeth, much like, what Thomas assumed, Lucky the Bear did with Queen Grace’s body.
Thomas screamed, lashing out again with his right hand, and this time smashing the side of his fist against the skull. He strained to get his left hand free, the skeleton craning its neck to get a good bite in, to thrust the Prince’s fingers into its mouth, between its biting incisors. This pushed the skeleton’s center of gravity forward, allowing Thomas to buck up his hips, kick up his feet, and throw the skeleton over and off of him.
He couldn’t think. He didn’t have time to. He just knew he had only a moment until the snarling thing was on top of him again, and so he reached out and grabbed his sword, the sword he had taken multiple lessons with. In just that moment, he swung the blade with a back swing, and sliced right through the advancing pelvic bone. Evil force or not, the skeleton was no match for the steel and in one sheer motion, Thomas had split the skeleton into two parts.
It growled and fell, only slightly pausing in its efforts to get to the prince. with just an upper body, it began to claw its way toward his feet. He took the time to make sure the woman was still alive, checking her neck for a pulse; to feel the beat of her heart, her blood moving through her veins, at her neck. She was still alive, and breathing, perhaps sleeping peacefully after such an ordeal with this... thing, this enemy in the dirt that snarled and inched its way toward them.
Thomas stood, sword at ready, and kicked the skeleton over. He stood over it as it reached up toward him, its jaw moving, speaking in some weird language, some inhuman tongue (if it had a tongue) of clicks and clucks. And with one downward thrust, Prince Thomas buried his sword in the skull of the creature, ending its motion, and its afterlife.
He was hoping killing these things would only get easier for him.