Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 24
Sleep had overcome Bently as soon as his head touched the pillow. The bed was simple, but to the exhausted soldier, the warmth and softness was something he thought he had almost forgotten.
Somewhere in his dreams, a shrill call like that of a bird had begun to echo back and forth, sometimes near, sometimes far. “To attention, Mr. Bently.” Someone yanked him by his shoulder, pulling him to a half-conscious state.
“What’s the issue?” He sat up groggily. The darkness of the night was still upon the exterior windows, and the bird call continued. Chin stared down at him as he played with his long sleeves and messy dark hair.
“Up, up, I said. Something strange is afoot.”
“What’s that awful whining sound?” Bently muttered as he found his footing on the hard floor.
“It exists as a warning signal between the guard.” The mage announced. Bently perked up. “I suggest you put on that suit of armor.” Chin said one last warning before pushing his way out the door.
Bently quickly assembled the parts of the armor that had been buried in his collection of things pushed into the corner of the cramped room. Putting on the suit armor had become such a practiced action for him, even in the dim light the pieces came to rest upon his body almost effortlessly. It was lighter than regular armor too. First the boots, leggings and tassets that guarded his legs, then the both sides of the chest-plate that went over his head and buckled simply with two straps at his right shoulder. The helmet slid on last even with the clumsy gauntlets on his hands. With in a minute, he had his sword in hand, still bound, as he exited the room.
The morning light had begun to creep between the leaves and branches of the tall trees. Chin stood outside the hall, his breath exiting his lungs in big clouds, much like when he would nurse his pipe. The mage held his eyes tightly shut as he honed his senses towards the exterior world.
Bently marched up next to him, his armor making low clinking sounds. One more of the shrill bird-like calls echoed out and died within the walls of the city. Bently played with the bands of armor around his arms, adjusting them to fit more comfortably. Chin quickly placed his hand upon the metal plate, grasping it in between his thumb and fingers. “I sense something.” He muttered. “Another energy like that of your own.”
Bently swallowed hard. He scanned the dark streets intently as his eyes adjusted to the low light. “Scar, maybe Kensley could be here?”
The mage dropped his hand to his side and shook his head. “Edrian was planning for them to move soon. There’s no way either of them would be all the way out here.”
“Then-” Bently uttered, before being interrupted.
“The warning calls have stopped.”
Bently made sure the sword was still secure in the binding in his hand before he took off in a jog down the road.
“Stand back!” Shiloh yelled out to the guards attempting to push up the road past him. The dark armor took slow, calculated steps towards him down the road. Behind it, the fallen guard lay limp and defeated in the street, having done no damage to the thing inside.
“Pass me your weapon!” Shiloh pleaded, peering back at the guard who held a tight grip on the long wooden spear with white knuckles. The man took cautious steps back, grinding the soles of his boots against the paving stones.
More guards came around the corner to the rear of the armored man. “Halt!” They ordered, extracting little more than a glance out of the intruder. “There is only one life I wish to take here.” The voice rumbled out from deep within the suit of armor. “If you stay out of my way, you shall be left alive.”
The guard behind Shiloh tossed down the long spear onto the ground with a clatter. “If you want to die here today stranger, be my guest!” The cowardly man spat out in retreat.
Shiloh bent to the ground to retrieve the weapon, his eyes not leaving the hollow eyes of the armor. “Mandabus!” The bodyguard called out. “That is your name, isn’t it?”
Mandabus continued his slow, deliberate steps forward. “A man’s name means nothing after he is in the grave.”
“You know where you are, aren’t you?” Shiloh asked defensively. He hung tightly to the shaft of the spear in his hands as he adjusted the point to be aimed at Mandabus’s neck. “The magi here will not allow you to continue unscathed, even with that suit of armor.”
Bently dashed down the street, passing Shiloh in a blur. He charged Mandabus, his shoulder meeting square in the middle of the chest-plate of the dark armor.
Mandabus grappled with Bently, seizing him with the section of armor that guarded the back of his neck, sending him flying back into the wooden building to the side of them. Bently rolled and returned to his feet, pushing out of the rubble and locking hands with
“About time!” Shiloh yelled
“Step back!” Bently shouted in return, attempting to gain leverage against Mandabus’s grasp. “Mandabus, you have to stop this!”
The metal of their opposing gauntlets grated loudly. Bently winced. His eyes followed the movements of Mandabus’s helmet as he looked into the void within the eye sockets. Mandabus’s knee lifted into the air and landed into Bently’s chest, sending him backwards. Their hands remained intertwined at Bently fell to his knees.
“Stay out of this!” Mandabus seethed as he pressed his weight down upon Bently’s shoulders.
Shiloh jumped upon Mandabus’s back, wrapping the shaft of the spear under the chin of his helmet. The dark armor writhed and attempted to shake him off. Bently pushed himself up from the ground and leaned into Mandabus once again.
The dark armor’s vicious writhing caused the spear to crack, sending Shiloh toppling to the ground. He quickly rolled to the side as Bently managed to catch Mandabus off balance, sending him to the ground where Shiloh had just been.
Mandabus rolled backwards and returned to his feet, charging into Bently and pushing him into the rubble of the building. At the center of the structure was a tree that the house had been built about. Bently’s back made contact with with the bark, as Mandabus pushed him into it, wrapping his heavy gauntlet around Bently’s neck.
Bently could feel his hoarse breath become strained as the grip tightened, causing the armor to buckle. “Shiloh, my sword!” Bently spied the weapon among the shards of wood, having dropped it during the first attack.
Shiloh dove into the building, pushing apart the splintered boards and grabbing at the binding of the sword. The weapon refused to budge as he yanked at the twine holding on the leather covering. Mandabus continued to press Bently harder against the tree, the armor begging to budge. Bently kicked helplessly with his feet. “I am your ally, Mandabus! Listen to me!”
Shiloh gripped the handle of the sword in both of his hands, flexing his knees in order to stand up straight. His arms strained from the immense weight of the weapon. With a quick turn, he began to wind up the sword for a swing, aiming for Mandabus’s turned back.
As the swing came into range, Mandabus reacted, catching the blade in his hands. With a yank, he caused Shiloh to tumble forward from the weight of the weapon. The dark armor tossed the broadsword into the air before catching it by the handle. His other hand released Bently, but the soldier was quickly trapped again by Mandabus’s foot ramming him back against the tree. The dark armor recoiled in preparation to swing the weapon, when a blinding light penetrated the interior of the building.
The sword fell to the ground with a loud clang. Charlstine stepped over the rubble and inside, her staff projecting the bright aura about the room. Mandabus growled, the plates of armor vibrating with a dark aura as he attempted to fight back. The Arcanus jutted the staff towards him, channeling more of her power into the spell.
Chin followed after, helping Shiloh up from the rubble. “Mandabus.” He uttered upon spying the dark armor. Bently pushed past Mandabus and out to the street, slumping down to the ground. With a loud cough, he pulled off the helmet.
“I believe I- we all- are owed an explanation, Mr. Bently.” Chin accused him, stepping outside.
“That may wait, Mr. Chin.” Charlstine interrupted, her staff still holding the dark armor still. “I can’t hold this… beast here indefinitely.”
“Lady Arcanus.” Shiloh patted the woman’s shoulder. “Zethurus knows of a way to cancel out some of the armor’s power.”
Charlstine looked back, her lips pursed unpleasantly. “Go, retrieve him. He is on the bottom floor of the building closest to the central hall.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Shiloh nodded and quickly stepped outside. He took off in a jog down the street.
“Now…” The Arcanus turned her attention back to Mandabus. “…you must have an important reason for having a second solider here, Mr. Chin?”
“We believed he was dead.” Chin stated, his eyes scanning the tarnished and dirty suit of armor. “At least, that was the word passed onto us from Bently and his Squad Lieutenant.”
“Oh?” Charlstine pondered as she looked over her shoulder to Bently.
The soldier stood up after catching his breath. “This man- our Captain, Mandabus- requested he be left behind and that we tell Edrian he perished.”
“I see.” The Arcanus nodded. She began to pace about Mandabus, her staff still held high, glowing. “Care to tell us why?”
Mandabus stood quiet, the armor trembling just slightly. “I doubt he will talk to you.” Bently interjected, loudly stepping through the rubble to the inside of the building. He carefully slid off his helm, revealing his red face and messy short hair. Cautiously, he stepped around the still armor before stopping just in front of Mandabus.
“You recognize me, don’t you?” Bently pleaded, staring into the dark eye sockets. “It’s me, Bently.”
The dark armor continued to stare blankly at the back wall of the room. “I’m afraid asking for a response is too much… there there is something not right with him.” Chin scoffed.
Shiloh skidded down the street outside, Zethurus dragging behind. “What took you?” Chin nodded back to the group.
Zethurus scowled back in response. “Long time since I’ve seen your face.”
“We had to retrieve his bag of things.” Shiloh explained, while Zethurus fumbled through the sack at his side.
“What do you have for us?” Chin folded his arms tightly.
“Sing root.” The mage finally announced, pulling a cloth bag out of his things. Shoving his hand inside, he extracted a handful of skinny tubers, colored naturally sanguine red. “They only grow at the base of the mountain here. I’ve found that the pulp acts in diffusing magical energy away from magical materials.”
“Then it will hold him?” Charlstine asked expectantly. She continued to pace slowly with her staff out, the light wavering slightly.
“Enough for this… thing to be properly restrained.” Zethurus growled, looking up and down the suit of armor. “I should have enough, too, for this second suit of armor.” He added, glancing at Bently.
“Get to this quickly, and maybe I will be able to save enough energy to consider lessening my punishment for you.” Charlstine growled, her staff clacking against the wall behind her.
Zethurus clamped his jaw and begun rubbing the roots between the balls of his hands, dying his wrists red with the thick liquid that seeped out. Carefully, he approached Mandabus and began tracing lines down the shoulder-plates of the armor. The suit trembled and growled from his touch. “Keep a hold on him.” Zethurus pleaded.
The mage continued around, tracing the thin, crimson lines over the surface of the armor. After finishing, he stepped back and took a second look at his work. “Release him, and see.” He said, glancing at Charlstine.
The Arcanus slapped the base of the staff on the floor, extinguishing the bright light. The room went dark, save the early morning sun drifting in through the shattered exterior wall. The suit’s knees buckled, and Mandabus began to fall to the ground.
Just before his knees made contact, Mandabus caught Zethurus’s wrist, pulling the mage to the ground with him. The heavy gauntlet pulled him close to the mask of the helm, where Mandabus finally spoke. “I will find my opportunity to take your life, Mage.”
Shiloh quickly yanked on Mandabus’s arms, pulling him away from Zethurus and off the ground. “We shall not allow you to escape so easily this time.”
Zethurus stood up stiffly, holding his arm. Underneath the sleeve of his robe, a trail of blood had sprung, leading down to his wrist. Charlstine yanked at his arm, pushing back the fabric. “This is not the Sing Root, is it?”
“He’s had that wound festering for days now, perhaps a week or longer.” Shiloh called back. “I saw you tending to it on the way here, did I not?”
“Being locked up in your cell prevented me from keeping up wrapped up properly.” Zethurus sneered, attempting to pull his hand away from the Arcanus.
The woman held tight, and pushed back the blood-soaked dressing just above his elbow. “No normal wound should appear like this.”
“It was from the knight.” Zethurus cawed, finally removing his hand from Charlstine’s grasp. With a swift kick, he sent a large piece of splintered wood skidding across the ground towards Shiloh and Mandabus.
“Perhaps we must reassess the nature of your judgment, Zethurus.” The Arcanus hummed.
“Retrieve your weapon, Mr. Bently.” Chin urged, pointing to the gleaming metal under the shards of plank on the ground.
“Sir.” Bently nodded before kneeling down to the ground and finding the handle of the weapon.