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Mandestroy

By James Hockley All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Fantasy

Blurb

Kantal is a fighter. He has had to be. Born with nothing more than a girl's name, he has endured a life of torment. But large obstacles do not imply small expectations. Quite the opposite in fact. And his country has long suffered too, investing five hundred fruitless years in trying to retake rich lands that were stolen by invaders from the sea. But that may be about to change. Because Kantal has a talent, and he has a plan. Now all he needs is to be heard. Can he finally ride the tide of his hard fought reputation, and succeed where all others have failed?

The Moment

Death was approaching. This was a battlefield after all. But this was also different. A mandahoi was coming, stalking through the mist, a grey wraith in a grey fog. An ominous shadow. And it was coming for him, but he refused to flee. That was foolish, very foolish.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

Arrows flickered infrequently, echoes of the recent devastation. Each missile held destructive potential in its path, but he stood proud nonetheless. The sound of punctured metal audibly tolled, oddly reminiscent of a past he refused to remember. But this was not his end. He was not going to fall to the arrow. The reign of the archer was finished, and the reign of the Grey had begun. He gulped and gripped his weapon, fighting down the nerves. His was a harder path.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

Of course, flight was the logical course. This was an enormous proposition, and the odds were stacked. Even in a fair duel the odds were one-sided, but there was no guarantee of equality here. And yet he stayed, firm and defiant. But mostly he was resolute; a product of his past. The easy path was flight, and yet he took the tougher way. He chose to face the Grey, and this was the unlikeliest of successes.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

He stared on, absolutely focussed. There was no other way to do this. The fog-bank swirled, pulled this way and that by the wind, but the shadow didn’t shift. It was always there, approaching. Approaching him. And he was a seething cauldron. He needed calm like he needed the Father behind him, and he hoped it would come. His task was laid out, the path to his future, but he was treading on a knife-edge. He shifted his balance and gulped. It had always been coming, this moment. It had always been in the mists of his fate. And yet, surely this was madness? Surely?

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

As he waited, he stood firm. He was ready to dance. His arms were by his side, relaxed. Only his right hand was tense, knuckles wrapped about his great-sword. And damn she was a great sword. He gazed upon her, marvelling at her glorious multi-coloured smirk. Marvelling at the waves of her construction. She was a beautiful thing, made by the hands of his hateful father, and she was a match for the legendary weapons of the Grey. Maybe she was better. But was parity in weaponry enough?

After all, you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

But time was still on his side. Yes, he had a moment. He could see the approach in the fog, but it was not upon him yet. He permitted himself the luxury of reflection. Just for a moment. Just in case this was it. Just in case. It was a knife-edge after all.

Why was he doing this? How had he got here? A great woman once said that ‘Anything could be solved by curiosity’. Well, this is where his curiosity had got him. He had always been heading for this, hurtling towards the flip of a coin. And yet it wasn’t a flip of the coin, because a coin is balanced. No. He was playing the house, and house always wins.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

But he was not entirely alone. His master was here, his duty. His patron. That was reassuring. Perhaps not reassuring, but fortunate. That fact gave him purpose.

“Get out of here you fool!” His master sounded desperate, which was hardly surprising when his leg was trapped under a dying horse. But if anything, his master was the fool. They were tied together, a team of two, so he couldn’t leave. He was here, waiting to die. Just like his master. There was no other option. He had a duty to serve, and serve he would. And his duty would lead him straight into the jaws of insanity.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

His master looked defeated, ordering flight, but that was just a front. They were one and the same, hand and shield-hand; prince and pauper; fates entwined by the gods. The path to this point had been laid by the regal-hand, but now it was time for the shield-hand to stand tall. It was time to repay his master, and indeed, repay him a thousand times.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

Time scraped by in coarse steps. It always seemed to do that when chaos approached. Each moment heaved into the next, stretching the path to death’s door. But time did march forward nonetheless. It always did. He needed calm, and he needed focus. He needed his master to be silent, and yet he couldn’t enforce it. That was a social indiscretion. He did however have a way, and he had to take it, whatever the implications. His manic smile must surely have been terrible, because the prince silenced instantly. It was not right, unsettling one’s master like that, but he needed his focus. He needed the man to be silent.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

He turned to the battlefield, taking in the scene of defeat. And it was a defeat – an utter and catastrophic one. The army had approached with hopes that the Freemen’s black magic held the answer, and for the briefest time the cannons seemed to sing. But then the arrows had come, and the reverse was immediate. Cannon-fog now cloaked the field, intoxicating the scene, and the dry scrubland was littered with the feathered markers of defeat. The archers had done their work, Delfinia was in retreat, and now the Grey Plague approached. The Mandahoi were here to mop up, and what a mop to have.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

Two men burst from the vapid blanket, desperation on their faces and tiredness in their steps. They were allies, remnants of the shattered infantry, and their faces told the story. It was defeat, and utterly so. A spike of darkness punctured the fog, and one of the men fell forward. There was an arrow lodged in his back. The second infantryman continued on, legs pumping and shock on his face. But was this defeat really so surprising?

After all, you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

And they were coming. The shadow in the fog was deepening, the form growing steadily. The fleeing ally echoed the prince and called for flight, but that was not the way to greatness. That was in fact the opposite way to greatness, because it was a strange quirk that the pinnacle and the abyss existed in the same place. To flirt with one was to face the other. The shadow grew darker, and the chasm opened up. Death was here; the stuff of nightmares; the eternal rot.

The Mandahoi had come, and they had never been beaten.

It burst from the swirling fog, and for just the briefest moment, it seemed mortal. A man approached, grey clothed, bare arms littered with metal rings. A hood concealed him, and most of his face was hidden by a silver mask, but the eyes were visible. He was a dangerous man, yes, but a man nonetheless. And yet reputation was everything, and this was a mandahoi. Death followed where this man led, and the two blades held before him sang of profound ability. If killing was an art, then this man was the master. The odds were long indeed.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

And then the odds grew longer. Two further mandahoi melted from the fog-bank, moving forward with terrible surety. The first enemy was upon him, weapons flickering dangerously. Threatening. But he did not falter. His stomach settled and his mind was drained. He was ready. All his life had been moving to this moment, and now it was here. Now it was here. And he smiled. He smiled at death itself, because that was all that was left to do.

For he was Adnan ap Kantal, and he chose the barely trodden path. Eminence or extinction, that was the coin he faced. But it was the path he’d been treading all his life. If he wasn’t ready now, then when? The mandahoi approached, and he stepped forward. This was a one-way journey, as it had ever been. It was time to take the path, and it was time to give himself to the one thing he truly believed in. It was time to test the depth of his stubborn resolve.

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