Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 4
The lights of torches moved about the pathways between the corridors beyond the fences of the mining outcropping. The calls of patrolling soldiers echoed between the buildings as they searched for the sound of the yell. Just on the horizon, the sun had begun to cast an orange glow up into the sky behind the mountains.
“Damn,” Kensley muttered while rolling his shoulders. “We must have lost track of time down in the tunnels.”“It’s not that.” Bently said with a shake of his head. “The daylight that we arise under takes its time to break free from the shadow of the mountain.”
Mandabus stood at the gate of the area and looked out into the darkness of the road that meandered down the slope that held onto the town with a light grasp. “We must waste no more time.” He ordered. As he glanced backwards, he could see the faint dark circles under Scarborough’s eyes. Through the unblinking holes in the helmet the light casted an orange glow on his tired features.
With his sword still dangling from his hand, the captain turned quickly and marched up to Scarborough who had begun trembling in the suit of armor. “You cold?” He growled a quick demand.
“No, sir.” Scarborough shook his head.
Mandabus grabbed Scarborough’s hand that was wrapped around the torch and pulled his grip tighter and tighter against the wood of the handle. “You shall not be afraid to kill a man who looks you in the eyes, is that clear?” He interrogated as the glow of the flame glowed at the glossy surface of his pupils.
“No sir.” Scarborough muttered as he stood rigidly. The shouting of men outside grew louder.
“Who is that?” A call came from behind Mandabus. “You, with the torch.”
As the captain turned around to face the newly arrived men, Kensley’s sword came free of his scabbard with a rough slashing sound. “Hold it.” Mandabus ordered. He quickly pulled the lit torch from Scarborough’s hand and turned to face the men with it. “Scar, you will lead us.”
The captain discarded the torch to the side of the group and into a pile of roughly strewn straw, catching scraps of the material on fire. Scarborough let out a shill yell before taking off through the soft, dark dirt. He quickly drew the short sword from behind his back. The fire spread. By the time the flames had darted into the air, the first man had been toppled to the ground with a spewing gash to the axillary artery on his arm from trying to block the attack. Kensley rushed beside him to cut the second man down.
“Split up!” Mandabus called out. His voice echoed in the cold air. “Let them know we have arrived.”
Bently drew the long, straight sword off his back and marched heavily out of the gate and past the other two. The captain adjusted his grip on the sword with a toss and followed quickly out of the confined area.
The worn road ensnared Bently in deep mud. With each trudging step, he seemed to sink deeper into the ground. The calls of men surrounded him. Tiny side roads swarmed with the sounds of voices and stamping feet from every direction.
A call of ‘Intruder’ sounded, and he felt a quick slash of a blade glance off the shielding of his chest plate. As the second slash came, he caught the sword and pulled the user in towards him. The man stumbled into the mud after his weapon, and Bently quickly changed his grasp to grab at the man’s bare face. With a swift movement, he sent the man down into the mire with a dull splash. With a quick jab downward at the ground, he finished the job.
Others appeared from the side street who bared weapons his direction. As they began to pile towards him, he used the fresh body to leverage himself out of the mud and plow through the men and pushed many to the ground.
“Be ready!” Kensley alerted Scarborough as he propped his shoulder against the dull wooden door. The Lieutenant backed up a few steps before he ramed the door with his body weight. The flimsily construction shattered with a loud clash from his armor, and the thinner man slipped in the door hurriedly after. In the grainy darkness of the room, a few men had already sprung out of bunks out of terror.
Scarborough took to jabbing at anything that had managed to catch his eye in the low light. Kensley smashed through more of the furniture as he swung the long, heavy sword through the air in an attempt to decimate anyone who wasn’t able to react quickly enough. In the dim light creeping though the busted doorway, the splatter of blood could be seen taking purchase upon the men’s glowing armor.
Mandabus marched through the back street along the rear wall. He came across a lit torch illuminating the alleyway. With a quick toss, he threw it up to the flimsy looking roof of one of the smaller buildings. The torch sputtered and smoked against the cold dew that coated the wood. Eventually the flame caught once again to start licking at the wooden structure.
Sets of armor rattled loudly as a group of soldiers jogged in the opposite direction on a pathway parallel to his own. The captain continued looking on down the hillside to the bigger buildings at the edge of the town that stretched onward to the exterior defensive wall.
The mountain began to glow with an orange haze in the light of the rising sun. The peak stood proudly with a minuscule snow cap that had just begun to form, far from the elevation where the two factions had been digging. The wooden scaffolding and carved out paths looked like an intricate maze leading to the various holes bored into the mountainside. Mandabus’s hot breath hit the air with an expanding white cloud of condensation. His eyes danced around the face of the mountain looking for any signs of recent work.
Bently gritted his teeth as a blow from a sword along his side forced a jerk from his diaphragm. He had been able to block the attack from the first solider able to reach him, but the second was able to land an attack as well. He sucked in a quick breath and pushed his weight back against the building. With his body supported, he managed to pick his foot up off the ground and send a low kick into the first attacker’s shin which forced the man’s knee to bend in the opposite direction. Others attempted to trample over him and strike away at Bently.
He quickly shifted his weight again to the side and slammed the second swordsman into the wall to the side with a loud ‘oof’. With slightly more room to move, Bently was able to swing his sword in a arc in front of him, catching several of the attackers off guard. The energy of the sword caused several helmets to crack of fly off. The men in front began to panic from the sudden casualties. Bently began to breath heavily as he eyed the mass continuing to pile up.
“Ain’t that a dainty sword you’ve got there, knight?,” An pair of armored soldiers taunted Scarborough. He had taken a separate path and found himself back on one of the main roads.
He seethed quietly as the two heavy-armored men stared him down. The dark metal of their helmets hid their obviously smirking faces, similar to his own. The armor was styled with deliberately intimidating features, in contrast to the equipment forged by the magi back home. Pursing his lips to hide the sound of his heavy breathing, he slowly approached them. Without warning, one of the men swung his longsword at Scarborough’s shoulder. The blade shattered instantly upon contact with the plating. The thin man flinched out of reflex, but the armor blocked any chance of injury. Before the now unarmed soldier could back up, Scarborough dashed up to him and shoved his short blade between the gaps of his waist guard and cuirass. The blade found flesh and the soldier toppled over to the ground. Scarborough placed his heel on the man’s chin and stepped into it with all his weight. As the snap sounded out, the other solider attempted to run the opposite direction, but a well-placed kick to the back of his leg sent him tumbling as well.
Mandabus squeezed through a skinny gap between two wooden shacks. The suit of armor clung just close enough to his body to pass through without loudly scraping. He rotated his head back and forth between the two roadways on either side. The movement was strained and cautious so as to not allow his helmet to scrape. The eye holes provided only a limited field of view. Along the road, another person ran by the hole he was headed for.
Just as the person passed, their footsteps stopped and returned Mandabus’s way. Their eyes met as they returned to look down the tight path where Mandabus stood. “You!” They shouted. The soldier looked to his sides in hopes to find backup. “Get out of there.” They said as they turned back. The man waved a dagger at him. Mandabus found he could not reach his sword in the tight space.
The soldier slipped into the space and drew closer. His dagger was aimed for Mandabus’s neck. The captain felt at the boards running across his palms. One flexed under the weight of a light push. As the solider approached, Mandabus pushed at the loose plank and shoved his hand in, breaking it. With a huff, he grabbed at the weight of the wall and pushed outward and towards the man. The framing of the structure buckled and began to fall over towards the street. The solider attempted to back up, but was caught in the falling rubble. Bits of the wooden shingles crumbled on top of them. The front section of the building had toppled over into the neighboring street. The remaining corner of the structure stood shakily on it’s corner posts. The man, dumbfounded, attempted to stand back up, but was met with a swift kick to the chest.
Kensley had scaled an unstable-feeling stack of wooden crates up to the roof of one of the barracks. The commotion the street over had caught his attention, and now he was able to see it. A group of armored soldiers had pushed upon Bently below. The ones at the front had either fallen victim to Bently’s wild swings, or were in the process of trying to extract themselves from the strike zone. Kensley found a stable footing upon the rooftop before scouting out the crowd. None of them had noticed him yet. Kensley bent his knees slightly before launching himself off the roof and onto the unsuspecting masses. The clank of armor and the crushing of bones marked his landing.
Wild strikes made contact with his armor. His sword found its mark in the flesh of those immediately in his vicinity. Some of the opposing forces backed off or scattered. He quickly made his way over the growing pile of bodies to Bently, who had been pushed backwards into the structure, almost breaking through the wall.
Bently took the hand that Kensley offered up. “I though there would be no end to them.” He scoffed. Looking down, he saw his greaves almost completely caked with mud and crimson blood.
Mandabus marched slowly through the muddy side streets. The sticky earth was dotted with trash and refuse, including empty bottles that once held alcohol. The smell of booze was faint over the smell of human waste and filth. The sun slowly continued to creep up on the horizon. Despite the attunement of the armor, he could barely feel for the possible source of the magical power that they were seeking out.
A few stragglers, the soldiers and workers, had found his way across his path. Each seemed to stop, dumbfounded in his presence. Before any could react, they were eliminated with a swing of his sword.
The smell of horse manure drifted into his nostrils. The final, narrow street lead out to an open plaza. Logs had been embedded in the ground to combat the mud. A modest gate in the otherwise long stretch of barrier lead out and down to a mountain stream. In a small stable to the side of the gate, a couple of horses and dirty-looking mule stamped uncomfortably. Mandabus took a short breath to look back at the town.
Plumes of smoke had begun to rise around the settlement, and the odor of the haze finally made its way to his nostils. Behind his turned back, a mass of cold energy made contact with his armor with a sizzling sound and a tingling of magical energy up his body. Mandabus slowly turned around with a smirk on his face to gaze at the attacker.
“That’s very bold, mage.” The captain threatened as he took his first glance of the man. He seemed barely the same height as Mandabus. Over the thin-looking black shawl, the magic user wore a thicker layer of animal hides and furs. A messy pony tail of black and grey hair hung over his shoulder. His bare hand sat at his side, partially clenched, with the other behind his back.
“Magical armaments?” The wizard huffed judgmentally with a deep voice. “’Tis unheard of. Putting such powers in the hands of simple folk.”
“Call us what you want.” Mandabus challenged him back. He shifted the handle of the sword back and forth in his hands, examining the blade. “We wield this power in battle because your kind can not. You’ve been neutered.”
The mage rolled his wrist and stretched his fingers towards the ground. “To hell with that,” He said with an unchanging gaze. “I doubt any should look down on me for acting in self defense.”
“Let’s not forget who attacked who.” Mandabus quickly answer. The second his words left his mouth, he found a solid footing upon the ground and used it to push off in a sprint towards the mage.
The older man pulled his second hand from behind his back and thrust it at Mandabus. A shard of ice flew from his palms and shot through the air to make contact with Mandabus’s legs. The captain stumbled for a moment, but was not halted. The wizard send out another shard, following it in rapid succession. Mandabus found his feet losing traction. His progress ceased as his legs slowly became encased in ice that crept upwards.
“Be reminded that it was you who arrived here today to lay slaughter to our people.” The wizard replied bitterly. His hands shook out in front of him from the cold and surge of power.
Mandabus peered down at his frozen feet. The frost and ice had crept over the ground in a spider-web formation and soaked into the damp mud. “I fight not for my own glory, but for the orders ordained by King Halmalch of Xiandol,” He uttered as he began to chip away at the ice.
“You’re little more than a murderer.” The wizard shouted. The ice cracked around one of Mandabus’s feet, and he was able to break himself free from the bonds of the remaining ice. As he rushed closer to the wizard, more magical bolts of ice were launched at Mandabus. The attacks grazed the magical armor harmlessly. As Mandabus’s sword came in close for an attack, the wizard caught the blade in his hand, encasing the edge in a pocket of ice. As Mandabus pulled back, the tip of the sword caught the man’s sleeve, cutting his wrist with little more than a scratch.
The wizard jumped back as Mandabus prepared for a second attack. The old man held his arm. The warm blood dribbled down past his sleeve. He quickly wiped it with his hand and smudged the crimson liquid between his palms.
Mandabus shook off the block of ice and once again aimed the sword at the wizard’s vitals. The rolled back eyes of the old man caught the captain’s attention. The wizard had begun chanting under his breath. His body rocked bath and forth. Mandabus shook the hesitation out of his mind and took the first step forward and got ready to once again dash at the man.
The wizard’s hands lashed outward towards Mandabus. He stopped in his tracks as a wave of frigid air washed over him. The fog from his breath instantly disappeared and the following exhale stuck in his throat. His eyes burned from the frigid cold. The wizard begun convulsing as dark waves of energy flew out from his hands towards Mandabus. All over his body, the coldness washed over him, followed by piercing pain that attacked every nerve ending.
His sword fell from his grasp and clattered onto the ground. Mandabus’s vision slowly went dark, and all the feeling left his body. His joints ached with a dull pain as the bones seemed to rub against each other, and he felt his body go light before he could no longer find the energy to stand.
Scarborough ran at the wizard. He reacted just quickly enough to block the short sword attack with a shield of dark magic produced from his palm. The two attacks fed back into each other and set off a blast that sent the two reeling. Before Scarborough could find his footing again, the wizard regained his sensibilities and ran to one of the tied-up horses. He quickly untied the animal’s reins and hopped atop to gallop off out the gate.
Kensley and Bently attempted to block off the exit but could not stop the horse.
Scarborough ran to the collapsed body of Mandabus and picked him up off the ground. The air had become thick with smoke and the fires drew closer.
“What happened!?” Kensley cried out as he skidded on his knees up besides Mandabus. Scarborough shook the set of armor. The metal plates rattled. Inside the eye holes, nothing but darkness remained.
“We have to go!” Bently warned. He clumsily held his arm up against his mask to block out some of the smoke.
“Help me carry him, Scar.” Kensley ordered. “Ben, his sword.”