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By James Hockley All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Fantasy


They say that Ahan's enemies were uniting in fear. Well, they were right. But who masterminded this cohesive assault at the heart of Society? None other than the man they call Mandestroy. This novella tells the story of how discordant enemies came to unite in fear against their affluent neighbour, and it also tells the story of the man who brokered that arrangement. Few in the world would face a Mandahoi and expect to survive. Not none, few. The name Mandestroy was not lightly earned.

The Moment

Death approached; it always did on the battlefield. But this was different. The Grey Plague was coming, stalking ominously through the mist; the Grey cloaked by grey. It was coming for him, but the soldier refused to recognise the danger; which was foolish.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

Arrows sporadically punctured the cannon-fog, echoes of the recent display of projectile authority. Each missile held destructive potential in its trajectory, but the soldier stood proud nonetheless. The sound of arrows striking metal rang in his ears, oddly reminiscent of a past he refused to recognise, but this was not to be his death. The reign of the arrow was finished, and the reign of the Grey had begun. And this new threat was a different proposition altogether.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

Of course, flight was the logical course of action. The soldier knew the enormity of the proposition before him, and he knew that the odds were stacked. Even in a fair duel the odds were against him, but there was no guarantee of equality here. And yet he stayed; firm; defiant; resolute. And mostly he was resolute; a product of his past. The easy path was flight, and yet this soldier took the tougher route – the route that none other dared. He chose to face the Grey, and he therefore chose the unlikely path.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

He was calm, or at least on the face of it he was calm. Within himself, he was a seething cauldron, the emotions that had always been there boiling themselves into a frenzy. But he would not let them run wild; he never had. Instead, he harvested that emotional maelstrom and infused his body with its essence. His task had been laid out, and he had the purpose he required to proceed. Now he just needed somewhere to focus that energy, and the Grey were approaching. But this was madness beyond madness, surely?

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

As he waited, he stood firm; ready to engage. His arms were relaxed by his side, resting before the exertion. Only his right hand was agitated, knuckles white about the grip of his great-sword. And damn she was a great sword. He gazed upon her, marvelling at the glorious multi-coloured smirk of the weapon; 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 even 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 sense the approach, but it was not upon him yet and so he permitted himself the small luxury of reflection. Why was he doing this? How had he got here? A great woman once said that ‘anything could be solved by curiosity’, and this is where his inquisitive streak 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 in this chaos. His master was here, his charge, and the officer now screamed at his stupidity. “Get out of here you fool!” If anything, his officer was the fool – a squire was as good as tied to the master. So here he was, waiting to die. He turned to face his master; left leg broken and trapped beneath a dying horse. He was young for an officer, and yet he was actually far more than just an officer. He was the Prince, heir to Delfinia, and he was also the charge; he was the purpose that drove the soldier to this madness.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

As the soldier looked to his master, he saw the plight in his eyes; but he also saw through that. 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 right hand, but now it was time for the shield-hand to strike. It was time to repay his master, and indeed, repay him a thousand times.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

Time scraped with that frictional quality it only adopts before the chaos. Each moment heaved itself into the next, stretching the path to death’s door; but time marched forward nonetheless. It always did. He needed calm, and he needed focus. He needed his superior to be silent, and yet he didn’t have the right to enforce it. He did however have the means, and he released just the tiniest scrap of his inner-maelstrom to great effect. The manic smile he forged must surely have been terrible, because his prince silenced instantly. It was not right, unsettling his prince like that, but he needed his focus.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

He turned to face the battlefield once more, taking in the scene of defeat. And it was a defeat – an utter and catastrophic one. His army had approached with hopes that Southern 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 heavy markers of fallen projectiles. The archers had done their work; Delfinia was in retreat; and now the Grey Plague was upon them. Mopping up. And what a mop to have.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

Two desperate men burst from the vapid blanket, running as fast as their lungs would allow, and as hard as their heavy armour would permit. They were allies, the last fragments of the shattered infantry, and their faces betrayed the defeat that had spread through the ranks. A spike of darkness punctured the fog, and suddenly one of the men fell forward; arrow burying itself into his back. The second infantryman continued desperately on, terror on his face, but also frustration; he had seen this all before.

Because you couldn’t beat a mandahoi.

And they were coming. A shadow in the fog was deepening, the form of the Grey growing steadily. The fleeing ally screamed for the soldier to turn and run, but that was not the way to greatness. That was in fact the exact opposite direction to greatness, for it was a strange quirk that the pinnacle and the abyss held the same directional quality. To flirt with one was to face the other, and as the shadow grew darker, the chasm opened up. Death was here; the stuff of nightmares; the eternal rot.

The Mandahoi were upon him, and they would not be beaten.

It burst from the swirling fog, and for just the briefest moment, the Grey Plague seemed mortal. A man approached, grey clothed, his bare arms littered with heavy rings. A hood concealed much of his head, and most of his face was covered by a silver mask in the likeness of a bear – only the eyes were truly visible. He was a confident 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 almost upon him, casual purpose in his set; weapons flickering dangerously. But the squire did not falter. The infusion of his body was complete, the chaos was consumed, and his purpose was set. All his life had been moving to this moment, and now it was here. Now it was here. So he smiled at death herself; he smiled as the mandahoi approached.

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 Grey Plague approached, and he stepped forward. This was a one-way journey, as it had ever been. Whether it ended today was now down to the Gods, and to the strength of Kantal’s stubborn resolve.

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