An involuntary shiver ran down Ainsley as he adjusted himself on the saddle. Seeing the bonegoths had unnerved him.
He ducked as a large bony hand whished past him. A heavy blow landed as he heard his ribs crack. He let out a scream of pain and collapsed holding his right side. Through the blotches of pain, he felt himself being hauled up by his head. His neck protested as the weight of his entire limp body lays suspended by it. But the pain was replaced immediately by an even stronger agony.
Ainsley felt his body shudder as his body spasmed. A sudden tingling overcame his entire body and within moments grew to a roaring crescendo blinding all his senses. He felt as if someone had taken one of the gate-rams and crushed his body against it. A strong current of thick hot water surged flew from his heart towards the brain and it felt every vein in his body as about to burst.
The pain receded as Aisnley opened his eyes for a brief moment but all he could see was darkness. With a big splash his mind went blank.
A man with sunken cheeks lay on the cot. He looked shriveled and old. So old, that his skin looked leathery. Caranne couldn’t believe it was the same man who had been ravaging two armies at the same time a few hours ago. But the face was of a different man. Droullin?
His own mind was in shambles. The sight of the white towering monsters rankled his bones. He had ordered the bandits had retreated well twenty leagues from the city and only a few foolish contingents of the Northern Alliance had engaged the monsters. He couldn’t have done anything about the forces inside the city.
The man still breathed and his eyes remained open. He’d witnessed the horror from up close but what he saw happen with Dah-Kun left him more confused than scared.
He approached the man cautiously, even though all the dangerous mystique had disappeared. “Are you okay, Master?”
The man waved him closer. “I feel worse than death,” he croaked. “I thought the worst feeling was not having enough magic around me…but now…it’s all gone.”
“What do you mean? You don’t have magic anymore?” Panic struck Caranne’s heart.
The bandit-lord looked a pale shadow of a man, as if someone had leeched the very colour from his body. He nodded. “I can’t feel its ebb and flow anymore. My mind feels like it has been left astray in the middle of an ocean. I have no will to live anymore.”
Caranne knew it was futile. The man was no better than a spent carcass. But he still made the attempt. “Don’t say that, Dah-Kun. We still need you. I have no idea what those monsters want but you need to get control of the city.”
The man shook his head with a weak smile. “I’m losing the will to live with every passing moment.”
He swallowed his disappointment and anger. I was so close to my goal. “Where did those Arbokkian monsters come from? What are they?”
The man coughed again. “I don’t have the faintest idea. Just that they leech out magic through your body till your body can’t support magic anymore.” He convulsed in the bed twisting like a bread roll.
Caranne held him down till the bout subsided and Dah-Kun began breathing normally again.
“I felt the life pulled out of me. Run away, Caranne, run away.”
That’s the first time he’s ever called me by name. “Where do I run to? My entire life has been about getting you to the magical source so that you would help me restore the Viallans to their rightful place.”
The man coughed but it seemed to him that he was also trying to laugh resulting a cackle. “Give up your fool quest, boy. Do you really think you can contend against the forces that currently roam these lands? Look at me. Even I couldn’t stop them.”
Caranne paused. There was no point arguing about this with a dying man.
“Dah-Kun, why use Droullin as a disguise? Did you want the Northern Alliance to think he’s responsible?
The man slowly shook his head. “I am Droullin. I always have been.”
Caranne started. “What? How can that even be?”
The man shrugged. “I needed power at the time to know about magic. Destroying the Viallans gave me that opportunity.”
““By Sucellok’s breath! You’ve always been one man. There never was a Droullin dynasty, was there?” Caranne’s head spun. “And you kept us under your thumb for all these generations? But why form the bandits and why recruit me, showing me the dream of reclaiming Viallan glory.”
“I created the bandits because being part of the Throdden Empire placed many restrictions that I couldn’t bypass. And as for you, giving you what you wanted was a small price to get what I desired.”
Caranne seethed. “You were the one who destroyed us! You are the patriarch of Droullins. The Viallans suffered because of you? And here I spent my life aiding you.”
The man coughed again. “I would have given you what you wanted. I didn’t need to be Droullin if I’d got the granules.”
He cursed himself for being a fool. Now there is no way to depose… Caranne smiled, as realization dawned on him. “You’ve already given what I wanted. The world saw who you really are. The bandits are no longer in your control. Awad is mine for the taking. And the Viallans will have gained redemption.”
The man’s eyes grew wide as he realized his fate. Caranne plunged his shiva into the man’s heart.
Lord Tremane sweated profusely. Fabius’ death had left him not only burdened but emotionally scarred. And knowing that Darius had killed him was the worst. The Throdden Empire was finished. Lord Tremane had brought Fabius’ entire company to the tent to tell them of ehat had befallen their friend.
All of them stood shocked at the news. Ainsley hadn’t come in yet. Telling him would be the hardest.
But none of it mattered. The world is finished if we don’t stop these bone-goths.Swathes of the eight-foot monsters climbed out of the gorge and crashed upon his army. The bandit army had disintegrated and fled within an hour. But that hadn’t eased his headache.
His own army was in disarray. Half his troops balked away from facing the unknown beasts and rightfully so. And the few who did were not making much headway. The bone exterior did not crack even with multiple smashes with swords and axes and very few of his army carried hammers, mallets or clubs. Even blasting them with cannons only slowed them down.
The only saving grace was the fact that the bonegoths completely ignored his men and marched towards Ianthine, pounding against the wall with all their might.
A messenger boy ran in. “Lord Tremane, Ainsley was caught by one of the…monsters.”
“What? Is he all right?”
The boy shrugged. “They say he’s alive but he can’t see.”
“What? How is that even possible?” Were the monsters beginning to turn on them as well?
Tremane turned to the messenger. “Any others?”
“No, my Lord.”
“Which means two things, either Ainsley had magic or that particular bonegoth can kill non-magic folk. Was Ainsley special in any way? Did he do anything unusual?” He looked towards Ragnasary.
“You bet he was special. They were the oldest of friends. They were practically insperable. Heck, he always knew what Fabius was thinking, even if he never said them aloud. Irked Fabius to no end.”
The colour drained from Lord Tremane’s face. “Ainsley had magic…however little. And these monsters are not going to stop unless they drain every single man, woman and child.”
“What do we do?”
“Fetch Mariam. It is time to swallow our pride and save Quindor.”
“What happened to him?” Elena cried out. The body of the man in front of her looked darkened as if someone had burned him from the inside but otherwise healthy.
“He fell off the wall but the monsters caught him,” Androl replied.
“Is he dead?”
“No, he’s breathing. He threw a fireball at them but nothing happened. One of the monsters caught him and then he wriggled about for a bit and then flopped down like this, while the monster walked away. He’s beyond healing.”
“What are these things? And how is Fabius controlling these monsters?”
“I don’t think this is the prince’s doing.” Androl tightened the bloodstained cloth around his arm. The man had refused to be healed while others suffered greater injuries.
“What do you mean?”
Androl shook his head. “They aren’t attacking us specifically. They are attacking anyone with magic. They killed the bandit leader because they had magic. They approach us because we are using magic. They aren’t attacking Fabius’ army because they don’t have magic.”
“So we pull back our magicians? That will help Fabius crush us and take the city.”
“Maybe, but the reports say his army is slowing the monsters down.”
Elena scoffed. “So that they can get in first. I don’t think so. I will turn the gems on these monsters. Let us see how much magic these things can handle.”
“Don’t be a fool, Elena. You are running ragged as it is. Shows of strength are good for display, not for everyday use.”
“How do you propose to stop these monsters then?”
“Empress…” a messenger ran in. “The Northern Alliance has surrendered. Lord Tremane is at the southern gate and he demands an audience.”