Heart of Darkness

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 6

“This is unthinkable!” Bently seethed. His raspy voice rattled through the loose-knit of forest. Around them, the early morning rays of sunlight pierced the thin canopy of mostly barren oaks. The cold wind rattled the branches above. Bently continued to pace. His feet crunched the leaves below as his gaze moved back and forth around the edge of the forest. Many meters away, the Tuleforian town smoldered.

Kensley knelt next to Mandabus’s body. He pushed the hair off his forehead as he studied the motionless set of armor that once held onto their captain. Scarborough stared out back at the forest and the plumes of smoke that had begun to rise.

“The wizards told us that this armor would protect us from any attack they could conjure up.” Bently continued. He huffed loudly and kicked bits of fallen foliage with his heavy boot.

Kensley hummed patiently. “That is what we were told, wasn’t it?” The Lieutenant pondered absentmindedly. They had dragged the unmoving body down the slope and into the forest. Scarborough had trailed the group to make sure nobody had caught them fleeing away from the settlement.

Bently turned and stomped towards Kensley. “How can you be so unshaken by this!?” He cried out, shoving his hand at the body that lay on the ground.

“Scar, tell us again what you saw.” Kensley said as he turned towards the skinny man, ignoring Bently.

Scarborough pushed himself off the side of the tree and turned back slowly towards the group. “It was…,” He mumbled absentmindedly. His eyes looked Mandabus up and down. The once brilliant set of armor had become dull with a layer of mud and grime. Bits of the metal gleamed with an oily tint. “Some sort of magic user,” Scarborough muttered slowly. “He wielded an energy I have never felt in all my life. When I struck him, I felt as if my sword was consumed by a great weight. When I finally recoiled from his attack… it was like my energy had been sapped from my arm.”

Kensley turned up at Bently to check for his reaction to the description. Bently returned an equally puzzled look. “Well, what shall we do then?” Kensley asked expectantly. He pushed at the captain’s helmet to turn his head back and forth.

“You’re asking me?” Bently retorted loudly and broke eye contact with the lieutenant. “You outrank me. All I can do is await your orders.”

“Shush, you two.” Scarborough returned. His gaze continued to keep watch out towards the edge of the trees.

“It just pisses me off that that we can’t confirm whether or not the captain is alive or not.” Kensley shuddered and stood up quickly from the fallen body. “Look into his eyes; nothing but darkness.”

“You know that’s part of the enchantment.” Bently mulled. “Only the wearer can remove the armor.”

“That must mean that he is still alive in there, no?” Kensley interjected. He leaned back and sent a loud kick into the side of Mandabus’s armor.

“What do you take me for?” Bently argued back loudly. “I’m no mage. Once we drag his body back home, we may ask!”

The darkness swirled around in a maelstrom of cold energy that held him captive in it’s currents. In the distance, the sound of voices moving back and forth echoed.

“How do you suppose we do that?” Kensley whispered defensively. “The only way back is through that town, unless you want to travel the long way around the mountain. Every last solider we left alive back there will be wanting to take their revenge.”

“Then we shall force them into the mud like we have done previous.” Bently announced boldly. He stomped his foot at the ground and reached for his sheathed sword at his back.

Scarborough looked back again warily. “Listen to yourself, Ben.” He said cautiously. “You don’t sound like yourself. What has the taste of blood done to you?”

“We shall not engage the Tulefore forces again…” Kensly announced and stood up. “Not while we have to deal with… this.” He finished and pointed down at the fallen man.

“You asked my opinion.” Bently shot back in a shrill tone. “We can take revenge!”

The sounds of his comrade’s voices rolled around in Mandabus’s ears. His extremities were cold and his body felt light, at if it were floating. His throat felt dry and he could not find the proper strength to move his tongue or lips. The feeling of the once heavy set of armor had disappeared. The sound of voices went back and forth. The droll of their complaining agitated his senses. The world around him slowly faded in from black. The sky was a dark gray that was broken up by a spider web of dark tendrils that seemed to surround him.

“Forgive me to expecting something profound out of you, then!” Kensley snapped. “Now you shall listen to my orders whether you like it or not.”

Mandabus shot up from the ground and grabbed at Kensley’s neck. With one hand, the captain picked him up and pushed him back against one of the large pine trees.

“Captain!” Scarborough turned around just in time to see Kensley’s body jerk as it came into contact with the bark of the tree.

“Mandabus!” Bently cried out. He quickly ran and attempted to free Kensley from the unrelenting grasp. The Captain’s loud, low breath echoed inside the helmet. Kensley grabbed at the wrist that held him tightly against the rough surface of the timber. His breathing became strained and his face slow turned a dark shade of red.

“What the hell are you doing?” Bently growled at he attempted to pull the Captain away. Scarborough pulled at Mandabu’s other arm and shoved against his side. Kensley sputtered and struggled.

With a loud growl, Mandabus shook his head and dropped Kensley from his grasp. He quickly turned back around to search for the sword that had disappeared from his side. His eyes met with those of Scarborough, who had already recoiled with a look of fright and defeat on his face. Bently had taken a few cautious steps backwards as well.

“Captain, it’s us!” Bently warned and waved his hand out in front of him.
Mandabus released a long, deep breath before turning around to look down upon Kensley. The lieutenant held his throat and sucked down a strained breath. “Ken…sley…” Mandabus found his voice.

“Where are we…?” The Captain growled as he looked around.

“Down outside the Tulefore settlement.” Bently explained.

“That mage… where did he go?” Mandabus growled and await the answer.

Scarborough took a deep breath before responding. “Disappeared. I attempted to fight back after you collapsed… but he held some strange power.”

“A necromancer.” Mandabus muttered under his breath.
Kensley stood up carefully. He rubbed his throat before speaking up. “We’re simply glad that you’re still with us.”

Mandabus held his gloved hand up in front of his face. The daylight appeared gray to him, as if they colors had been drained from the world. The forest around him was dull and lifeless. Along the base of a tree was a frozen over puddle. He stiffly shifted closer to it and looked down at the blurry reflection. The helmet looked the same as always, but the eye holes seemed dark and empty. His back faced away from the others, he slid off the helmet.

Looking back at him was a skeletal figure that bore his same prominent chin and wide set eyes. In his hands, the helmet felt as if it weighed nothing. Rather, his hand had lost any of the feeling that it once had. While the others breathed white clouds of fog, his body extruded none. As he placed the helmet back upon his head, he turned back to the others and their puzzled looks. “Still with you… I am not.”

Kensley stepped close to Mandabus and looked him in the eyes with a curious look. The Captain’s unblinking gaze gave no indication of emotion. “Where is my sword?” Mandabus asked coldly.

Scarborough pulled the sling off his shoulder that held the scabbard and the Captain’s longsword. He trembled slightly as he approached Mandabus with the object held out towards him. The Captain grabbed it and slid it over his back.

“You will tell the commander that I was killed and was not able to be recovered.” Mandabus announced.

Kensley folded his arms in front of him. “You can’t be serious,” He mocked. “What do you plan to do?”

“I’m going after that wizard.” Mandabus replied without delay.

“He was on horseback.” Bently interjected. “We have no idea where he was headed, or how far along we is.”

“I’ll follow him all the way to Tulefore City if I must.” Mandabus answered coldly, before turning his back to the group.

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