Alive in the Dark

Of Armor and Bone: Chapter Thirteen

The tiny hut at the edge of the settlement had begun to reek with the odor of death. The only people who came into a ten foot reach of it were the guards ordered to keep watch.
It had been a week since the capture of Mandabus. One week of nothing but tepid silence from the unknown man inside of the impervious set of armor. Despite any attempts to remove it or get a word out of the man, none had been able to get through, both literally and figuratively.

“There must be some point at which he breaks.” Terren insisted. He looked across the table at his sister, who tapped her fingers on the wooden surface impatiently.

“Do not take the power of such enchantments lightly.” Zethurus butted in. “The armor could likely sustain him indefinitely.”

Kiaren pounded on the table. “If you were worth your salt, mage, you should have been able to do something about that already! It’s his mind that will break first, but even then the man could go on for gods know how long.”

“I can’t stand the smell.” Terren complained. “We can either hope to get some information out of him, or dump him in the sea.”
The commander sat back in the chair and examined her dirty fingernails. “Is there anything we could offer him to appease him, get him to cooperate if just a bit?”

“Obviously, the only answer is to offer up the life of your wizard, here.” Terren taunted and stared down Zethurus.

“I hope you realize that he has bowed to some sort of animalistic tendencies. There will be no reasoning with it.” The mage interjected.

“Tell us again of how you defeated him.” Terren argued.

“Enough!” Kiaren raised her voice, stopping both the others. “It’s been four days now since anyone has stepped foot in that awful room. Just maybe it has been enough time for his rage to abide.”

“Just don’t allow him to see the face of our mage.” Terren added.

Outside, Kiaren marched down the road, the Lieutenant and mage in tow behind. The hut was an old storage shed for mining tools, built up against one of the tall perimeter walls. The guards at either side of the door stood with a slight waver in their locked knees as they did their best to withstand the smell. They each gave a quick nod as the Commander approached.

Light flooded the tiny room as Kiaren swung open the door. Terren held his breath and turned his nose away. The dark suit of armor sat motionless. Across the dirty metal plates, runes had been drawn using animal blood to dull the power of the enchantments. The man had also been tied tightly with multiple layers of rope to a chair that sat at the middle of the empty room.

Kiaren bared her teeth and leaned down close to the dark, hollow looking eye-holes of the helmet. The rancid smell entered her nostrils. She exhaled a cloud of warm breath and attempted to look for a reaction.

When the wearer refused to react, she grasp her hand out and placed her palm on top of the helmet. With a quick jerk, she yanked the man’s head back hard, knocking the armor plates into each other. “I know you’re in there.” She growled. “If rigor mortise had set in, you would be stiff as the limb of a tree. How much longer do you intend to sit here silently?”

Terren scuffed his shoe into the dirt and stared down at the still silent suit of armor. “We’ve had our chance to reason with it. We should consider ways to begin disposing of it, less we risk attracting the wild animals.”

Kiaren stood up and began pacing around the chair. “No.” She snapped. “Even if we get no more than a groan out of him, that armor he’s wearing is worth more to us than we could ever imagine. No price could ever be put on it. Imagine, having such a power in our hands, being able to retaliate against Xiandol in the same way they attacked us.”

“Magic of such power is fickle…” Zethurus spoke up. His shadow was cast in front of the door as he hid behind the side wall. “It latches to the life force of that who controls it. It rarely likes to change hands.”

The suit of armor moved ever so slightly. The wooden chair underneath let out a tiny creak.

“Oh, so you are awake?” Kiaren said, looking down at the man, the ridges of the helmet still under her hand. “Have you realized now that nobody is coming to save you? It’s been days, you know. Remove the helmet and we can perhaps help each other out for once. The longer you stay inside that suit of armor, who knows? Your frail, human insides are likely crying out for nourishment, but you would never be able to tell. I’ve heard the armor dulls any sensation you’re familiar with. Save for… rage.”

The suit of armor let out a low growl that seemed to shake the rickety wooden building. Terren stepped back from the doorway. Kiaren lifted her hand off the armor piece, and leaned back against the wall to observe. “My life seems… to be… of great… interest… to you…” The dark voice echoed.

“You, a soldier, must know that Tulefore does not take prisoners.” Kiaren sneered. “Why would we? One could expect something in return for sending a prisoner of war home, but we could never want of something from any other country. Worthless! But you- you’re more than just a prisoner. You’re a walking relic of something Xiandol has that we don’t- that set of armor. It doesn’t take a strategist to determine why you came and burned half our settlement to the ground, but knowing the powers that encouraged the action is valuable information. You obviously didn’t just come alone, either. What I’d like to know is how many more there were of your… team.”

“And how you came back from the dead when you were supposedly killed by our wizard here.” Terren taunted.

“You will stay silent!” Kiaren snapped back at him. Zethurus shuffled uncomfortably.
Mandabus let out a low laugh that hummed against the metal of his helmet and rattled the loose boards of the building. “There is more than one side to a story when two people come together in battle, my dear.”

“You’re ever cocky, aren’t you?” Kiaren said. “Answer my question!” She leaned down close to Mandabus’s face and attempted to make eye contact through the slits in the helmet.

“Ask that of your wizard.” He growled. “He was cocksure as all when he had me at a distance, but the second he felt the tip of my blade, his knees nearly buckled underneath him.”

Kiaren turned around quickly to see Zethurus’s shadow shifting back and forth uneasily.

“He’s talking nonsense.” The mage seethed. “He will continue to talk you in circles so that he may avoid us cracking away at him.”

Mandabus let out another low laugh. The hair’s on Kiaren’s scalp stood on end. “Mage, is it true that you fought this knight in particular?”

Terren turned to the mage and grabbed at the man’s sleeve. Up his left arm were long bandages wrapped tightly around a seeping wound. “Sister, he was struck it seems.”

“You continue to lie to me, Zethurus!” Kiaren snarled.

“Even so, you must believe my words! It was this man whom I struck down, even through the pain he inflicted!” The wizard spat. “I remember clearly the movements of his attacks, it is the same man who cowardly attacked this settlement with his guard!”

“I understand now what we’re dealing with.” Kiaren said, curling up her lips. “This armored juggernaut Xiandol has created, able to withstand not just physical blows, but magic as well. Yet, while others died trying to stop him, slow him down, you fled at the first sign that your life was in danger!”

“Mage!” Mandabus roared. “You know what happened then! Do not continue to omit the details that will tell your commander of your true nature!”

“Enough!” Kiaren paced around the chair, mulling her thoughts. “My forces fought back out of self defense! Yet your blood-lust knows no bounds. Why did you come back here? Was the amount of destruction you caused not enough?”

“I seek only the head of your mage.” Mandabus muttered. “Offer his life to me, and you shall never have to deal with me again.”

“Our men’s lives are not your playthings, knight.” Terren announced.

“Even a fiend like you should have some honor.” Kiaren hissed. “Yet you simply want to hunt down the one that got away.”

“If you knew what dark powers that man holds, you would have his had on the block at this moment!” Mandabus roared.

Outside, Zethurus attempted to pace away slowly, only to by topped by Terren’s hand wrapping around his shoulder. “Where do you think you’re sneaking off to?” The lieutenant whispered.

Kiaren leaned down and placed her hands on Mandabus’s shoulder and attempted to look once again into his eyes. “What reason do I have to believe you?”

“It seems that even your foolish mage is unaware of the extent of his actions.  Allow me to remove my helmet, and you shall gaze upon my visage.” Mandabus uttered.

Kiaren stood up and patrolled around the chair silently one last time. She gazed that the runes smeared on the armor, and the heavy gauntlets tied behind the back of the chair.

“My men will not hesitate to subdue you if you decide to try something foolish.”
With a whip of her fur coverings, she extracted a knife from her waistband and used it to cut away at one section of rope binding Madabus’s wrist.

The suit of armor sat up slightly as the knight lethargically lifted his hand to the helmet. Terren poked his head in the doorway to see Mandabus slip off the helmet.

Kiaren gasped and held her nose. With pursed lips, she looked down upon the skeletal figure. Bits of dirty hair clung to the fleshbare cranium, clumped in yellowing bits of epidermis. Tiny beige maggots ran their way through the remaining flesh at the cheeks and lips of the skull, and the blank eye sockets glared into oblivion.

With a single motion, Mandabus returned the helmet to his head. A low sound akin to inhalation rattled the room. “Do you understand the power one holds when they are able to manipulate the forces of life and death?”

“Zethurus!” Kiaren stomped outside, teeth bared. Upon seeing the cowering wizard, she grabbed at his collar and lifted him off the ground. “To know that the mage with whom we trust our lives is a practicer of necromancy? You will be hung up before the court of Tulefore for the use of illegal dark magic!”

Zethurus pulled fruitlessly at Kiaren’s tightly grasp fists. “You fool of a woman!” He cried. “If I had not struck this man down with my powers, we would have seen the entirety of the settlement in ashes.”

“And yet you decided to flee to hide your wrongdoings!” Kiaren said, shaking him back and forth.

Inside the hut, there was a loud crash of the chair’s legs breaking and tumbling to the floor. Mandabus had toppled the chair back, causing it to shatter at its weak points.
Terren pushed through the doorway as Mandabus got to his feet. The lieutenant struck him with his shoulder, but the weight of the armor and the body inside took the impact, sending Terren flying to the ground.

Kiaren tossed the mage to the side with a loud oof before retrieving the dagger from her waistband once again. Sluggishly, Mandabus marched over Terren and out the doorway. His eyes met once again with those of the Commander.

The two stopped in place to stare each other down at several nearby guards gathered around, swords drawn.

“That armor is keeping your soul intact, inside there.” Kiaren declared.

“I may die in peace if the one who did this to me loses his life as well.”

“You are a poor warrior if you cannot accept the repercussions of heading off to battle, dark magic or not.” The commander held firm.

“There is no honor in living like this, a dead man trapped inside of the shell of a suit of armor. I will kill every last person who gets in between me and that mage.”

Kiaren stroked the handle of the dagger between her fingers. “I should like to kill him myself, but then I would be no better than you! The Mage’s Guild will have to decide what to do with his utter bastardization of their code.”

“Unless that means his death, I cannot have it.”

Zethurus had crept back against the adjacent building. Behind Mandabus, Terren had stood back up to further entrap him in the ring of people. “You are an enemy of Tulefore!” Kiaren shouted, not letting her guard down. “You have already killed numerous of our men. Were you a normal being, you would have been executed long ago. However, our circumstances our different. Tell us what you know of Xiandol’s forces- if there are more with equipment like yours- and we shall let you leave.”

“You have my sword, and you have my target.”

“You leave empty-handed.” Kiaren redoubled.

“Are you prepared to take part in a standoff of this nature?” Mandabus roared. The soldiers around the Commander trembled.

“Tulefore can send us more men, supplies, magi. We are no so far from our homes, like Xiandol.”

Mandabus braced his legs underneath him and quickly sent his arm back, making contact with Terren’s midsection. The lieutenant crumpled as the air was knocked from his lungs. Kiaren shunted forwards with her group of soldiers as Mandabus snatched up Terren in his arms, the man’s head posed between his palms. “I may be in a weakened state, but I have just enough power to break this man’s neck.”

The commander whispered back to one of her men poised just behind her. “Go retrieve my weapon. Alongside the bed in my quarters.”

“That will not help you!” Mandabus cried as the lone soldier sprinted away. “That weapon you possess. Its more than just a simple blade of steel, none too different from mine.”

“Release him.” Kiaren shouted. She and the soldiers on either side of her scuffled their feet anxiously.

“This man is… your lieutenant, I suppose?” Mandabus posed, digging the metal fingertips of his gauntlet against Terren’s tender throat. The captive man flinched as his feet dangled, his heels tapping fruitlessly against the metal armor behind him.

“Anything Xiandol could want, we will offer.” Kiaren ground her teeth. “Just allow that man to go.”

“I don’t speak for Xiandol or care for it’s needs.” Mandabus roared. He shook violently at Terren’s body. “You know my wishes. Offer up to me your mage, and there shall be no other blood shed here.”

“Just as you are not sworn to Xiandol, I am not of the mage’s guild. Yet, I still wish to see Zethurus brought to justice by them!” Kiaren attempted to reason. “And you are no judge!”

“Executioner, then.” Mandabus laughed. With a dull crack, he twisted Terren’s head between his gauntlets. The map flopped to the ground limply as Mandabus quickly turned to the tall wall behind him.

Kiaren and her men leapt forward just in time to Mandabus to bound up to the height of the fence, wedging his arm between the carved logs. With another yank, he pulled himself up and over, landing with a metallic thump onto the dirt below.

In the commotion, the soldiers attempted to follow him over, to no avail. “Go around! Follow him!” Kiaren ordered. “Grab horses if you must!”

In all directions, the men ran off, leaving Kiaren and a few others behind. “Brother.” The commander sobbed, kneeling down to the body that had fallen face-first into the dirt.

“That man, and all of Xiandol, have made a true enemy in Tulefore this day.”
Zethurus skulked behind the hut, peering around the corner at the Commander coddling her fallen family member.

“Mage!” Kiaren cried out behind her. “I will see to it that you are judged with great prejudice for allowing a monster like that man to exist as well.”

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