Chapter Twenty-Four: Ggrrom
Sailing round a corner, Efkin hastened down a stair as the din of warriors grew louder behind him. He sped down a narrow corridor and came to a door. When he found it was locked, he raised his sword to smote it, but remembered that Harbinger had been lost. In desperation, he hurled his body against the door, but the dense wood held. He heard soldiers scrambling down the stair and prepared to receive the throng. The men were upon him, rushing like a tide of steel. He brandished his blade, taking advantage of the narrow lane, which choked the horde so that only two attackers could assail him at once. He pressed them back, and thought he might still escape if he could win his way to the stair. As he fought, he could sense no malice in these men, and he loathed slaying them.
He was halfway toward the stair when he caught sight of someone on the steps descending into the fray. When he saw the color of the armor, he knew Saos had come.
“Hold!” Saos called.
At once, the warriors halted their attack.
“The elf is mine.”
The dark lord approached, walking past the parting ranks of warriors toward Efkin who stood anticipating his sorceries with dread. Saos eyed the elf lord with a keen grin. “I see your disguise has dissolved,” he mocked. “I had thought the elves were more accomplished in their sorcery.”
Efkin met his gaze with defiance. “We do not deal in sorcery.”
Saos smiled. “You would have men believe their sorceries are dark when you have practiced these arts for centuries. The elves fear men will surpass their abilities and conquer them.”
“Men would have perished long ago if we did not act to save them.”
Saos laughed. “Men will save themselves from the elves and their ancient philosophies.”
Efkin stood ready to receive the dark lord and their swords rang as steel bit steel. The dark lord thrust and hewed, weaving his sword with great skill. Efkin countered each blow flawlessly and sliced Saos’ shoulder. Saos fell back for a moment, then leapt at the elf, dealing furious blows in a rage. Efkin deflected the attacks aside, but then his sword became heavy and Saos cut him in his side. He tried to hold the sword with both hands, struggling to meet another blow, but he could not lift it high enough to parry the dark lord’s blade as it stabbed his left arm.
“Is your sword too heavy, elf,” Saos laughed.
Efkin stared back at the dark lord, still struggling to keep his grip on the blade. “Your kind will be dealt with.”
The dark lord pierced his leg with a swift thrust and Efkin fell to the floor.
“The elves have vowed to crush all men who would stand against the tyrannous rule of the Braey.” He slit a gash across his chest with a stroke. “Even now the elf tries to beguile me with his crafts.”
Efkin waited for the death blow. There were some among the warriors who turned their heads away. He knew his words had not been wasted on these men who might someday turn from their masters, and then his death would serve some greater purpose.
Suddenly, above the pile of slain warriors a sword rose out of its sheath, seemingly of its own volition, and flew through the air toward Saos.
“Behind you, my lord!” a soldier cried.
The sword shot toward his back, but Saos turned sharply an instant before it pierced him and the blade stabbed his shoulder. He swung round to defend himself as the sword sailed at him again. The dark lord raised his sorcerous hand and the blade fell at once to the floor.
And then Efkin saw Modrus’ skeletal frame materialize on the floor and all who beheld him gasped with fright. He stirred on the floor, barely able to move, the drain of his wizardry taking its toll on his weakened form.
Saos stared at the fleshless thing and as he moved toward the wizard-king, Efkin tried desperately to lift his sword, hoping the distraction would diminish his sorcery, but he still could not raise the blade.
“You wear a king’s crown,” said Saos.
“Do not all kings?” Modrus said weakly.
Saos paused as above them the governor and his guards descended into the hall. Lokus came forward, still holding the horn, and looked at the pile of dead warriors.
“Did the elf kill all these men?”
The dark lord nodded.
“Look at them, they’re scattered everywhere. There must be thirty or more, all dead.” He turned to Modrus and his pleasant features were lined with terror. “What horrible thing is this!”
“He says he is a king,” replied Saos.
The governor looked at Modrus, then turned in disgust. “Nonsense,” he said. “Kings are noble and proud, not wretched creatures.”
Modrus might have smiled if he could. “I was once a proud king. Before the dark times. Before I listened to wise fools like you.”
Surprised, Lokus looked at Modrus again and stared into his eyes. “Do I know you?”
Modrus limped slowly as he spoke, moving steadily toward Lokus. “You knew me once, wicked fool. I knew you in the years before the war, when you still had a soul. You would not betray your country in those days when I looked on you with favor. I did not know how you would wound this land.”
Lokus stood in fear as the king crept closer. “Modrus?” he said in a whisper.
“It is I, Lokus, returned from the grave to settle an old score. I have waited long for my vengeance and I shall have it!” With his remaining strength, Modrus lunged at Lokus, seizing him by the neck. Instantly, two guards tore him off the governor and cast his frail bones to the floor.
Lokus looked down at Modrus and laughed. “I am honored, Your Highness. Your presence is the most exquisite surprise.”
Saos leaned over the king. “I do not know how you have come back to us, but when my work is done you will not return again.”
“Is this what you want?” Lokus taunted. “You and your elf friend have come to claim the horn?”
“You must give it to us.”
“Give you this horn?” Lokus laughed. “This horn goes to Mor where I shall hand it to the rulers of that land whose gratitude cannot be measured.”
“You do not know the ways of these men. They do not honor their agreements. They have promised power, but you will be granted a swift death.”
The cruel aristocrat smiled and, beyond his handsome features, there was an unmistakable guile. “Slay them both,” he said casually. “Your time has passed, King Modrus. The time has come when all the world will be one nation under Mor and men will carve their own destinies without the Braey meddling in their affairs. Do not be saddened, Your Highness, for what transpires was meant to be. It is futile to fight what fate has designed.”
He stepped away from the king. Modrus saw the horn glinting in his hand. With his last bit of strength, he reached out his arm and seized the governor’s leg, throwing him down so that he dropped the horn as he fell to the floor. Lokus got up and went to recover the horn as Modrus reached to grasp it, for he felt he must touch it, even if only for a moment. Lokus was almost upon it when the tip of a skeletal finger touched the horn and a bright blue light ignited on Modrus’ hand, coursing down his arm and spreading over his entire form. His eyes were two shining orbs, aglow with a white light that was beautiful and terrifying to behold.
Gripped with fear, Lokus backed away as the king rose. All who stood near Modrus trembled, daunted by a presence of unimaginable power. And then a skeletal hand seized Lokus’ throat and lifted him high in the air.
“Who are you?” Lokus said, choking.
The king stared into his eyes with a fearsome gaze that pierced his soul.
“I AM GGRROM!”
The earth quaked at the sound of his voice that boomed across miles, and suddenly the fortress pitched sharply as a great fissure opened under the mastodon and the beast stumbled in the crack.
Efkin was overcome with fear and wonder, unable to fathom how Ggrrom had been summoned. He stared dumbfounded at the power that now animated the king.
And then Modrus closed his skeletal hand and broke Lokus’ neck. He turned to Saos. The dark lord raised a gauntleted hand and a ring of black fire circled the king. Modrus walked past this sorcery wholly unaffected and Saos’ eyes widened with fear. He took up his sword and swung at Modrus’ head, but the king caught the blade in his hand and, moving with incredulous speed, tore it away from Saos and stabbed the dark lord in his rib.
Saos screamed, clutching the sharp steel and pulling it out of his side. A few feet away, he saw the man in the grey cloak waving his hands in the air, conjuring a portal to escape.
The fortress lurched again and suddenly it seemed the whole structure was falling as warriors flew through the air. Efkin was hurled aside and knew they were going to crash when he found himself standing on a wall. He braced himself.
And then they hit the street with a crash that sent timber and steel shooting all around them. A wall collapsed and several warriors came raining down, plainly confused. The fortress was still for a moment, then it sank, creaking and cracking, sliding down the fissure, its whole structure splitting as it fell into the gap.
The horn slid in front of Efkin and he grabbed it. Then he climbed the wreckage up toward a patch of starry sky that shone through a hole. As he fled the sinking fortress, he caught sight of Saos leaping through a sorcerous black hole and wondered if he would survive his wound. It was a deadly blow that would slay another man, yet there was still a chance this dark lord would recover.
Efkin mounted the twisted ruins and emerged out of the fortress. He stared at the great chasm that ran for miles down the street. Then a faint glimmer caught his eye and he found in the debris Harbinger’s silvery blade glinting in the moonlight. He reached for the sword and then leapt from the fortress as it sank.
He watched the tangled mess of wood and metal disappear into the chasm. The mastodon could not be seen, its massive bulk swallowed whole, but two ivory tusks pierced the ruins, sinking slowly out of sight.
And then floating out of the wreckage, Modrus’ glowing form descended toward Efkin. The skeletal king flew through the air like a frightful apparition. Modrus stood before him, his eyes still shining. Efkin was gripped with fear, overcome by an awesome power beyond apprehension. Modrus turned his gaze upon Efkin who stared daunted at the glowing king, and moved by whatever power possessed him, bowed his head to the elven lord.
Then his eyes dimmed and the power was gone. Modrus gasped suddenly, stumbling, and Efkin caught him as he fell. He was weary and spoke with great effort.
“We have won … you have the horn.”
“Do not speak, Modrus.”
“Did I kill Lokus?”
“The governor is dead.”
Modrus stared at the broken fortress. “Ggrrom slayed him and Saos also,” he said recalling. “I ran the dark lord through with his own sword. But the land … the powers they served still have this land. It will be sundered and none will remember Khad-Amryn as it once stood.” He stared deep into Efkin’s eyes. “You must remember … you must remember what remains of this great city before it is torn away … and tell others how this land once shone brighter than all the stars in the sky … you must remember.”
“I will, Modrus,” Efkin said. “And I will fight to rid this land of Mor’s influence. While I live, Khad-Amryn will not fall.”
The king’s eyes held a glimmer of hope, for Efkin spoke with a will that swore to fulfill his promise. He nodded gratefully, and then his eyes widened and he pulled Efkin closer.
“Aegon,” he uttered. “The Runes …” His voice was a whisper as he forced himself to speak. “The tower … in Aegon …”
“The Runes are in the tower?”
Modrus shook his head. “ … you must see … you must see …” and then he closed his eyes and died.
Efkin wept as he carried the dead king, disappearing into the misty night, away from the throng of warriors who amassed around the sinking fortress in bewildered astonishment.