Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 31
Bently and Mandabus had stopped at the edge of the Arcadian forest to rest their horses. Bently lead the two animals to the nearby stream to drink while Mandabus had moved to the edge of the tree line, from where one could make out the vague form of the timber walls of the Tuleforian Settlement.
Bently left the horses to graze and approached Mandabus. “It’s likely our forces have already taken it over.” He said, calling Mandabus to attention.
“What forces are those?” The dark armor asked.
“Seems they’re like us. More suits of armor bound with magic.” Bently explained, staring at the old Captain’s back. “Where has your weapon gone?”
Mandabus pointed onward towards the settlement. “I had to forfeit it during a failed attack.”
“We may retrieve it now, then.” Bently said, peering up at the sun slowly approaching the eastern horizon. “You can give up this crazy hunt, join with us to fight them as a whole.”
Mandabus turned around and began to march back towards the stream. “How did you explain my absence when you returned to Edrian?”
Bently followed after, stuck close. “We said you had perished, as you asked us to.”
“Then the General would bear ill will if I were to return from the dead, suddenly.”
“You may explain first to him what you were doing out here.” Bently offered.
Mandabus turned suddenly and planted a heavy hand on Bently’s shoulder. “You must not announce my presence to anyone.” He growled. “Not even Kensley. I want you to find my sword and return it to me.”
Bently stepped back from the old captain and eyed the blank expression of the helm. “And Chin? How do you want me to explain how we left him behind?”
“The Arcanus wanted to hold him up, obviously.”
Bently shuffled to his horse, grabbing its reins in his grasp. He looked back and forth between the deep forest and the mountainside. The animal nibbled more at the tender green grass by the edge of the stream before looking to Bently expectantly. “Should I care to know what you have in mind, Mandabus?”
The Captain had knelt down at the muddy bank by the water, staring into the blurry reflection at himself. “What would you do with the knowledge?”
Bently let out a sigh and took his helm from atop the saddle before placing it back on his head. “I guess I won’t get anything from you, will I?” He said, mounting the horse. “I will return when I can.”
Mandabus watched as Bently rode off towards the mountain. He peered back at his image in the water before beginning to scrub away at the dried crimson markings that Zethurus had scrawled on the armor plating.
Bently arrived at the walls just as the sunlight turned to a deep orange. He yanked the horse to a halt just beside one the of side sections of wall, concealing himself at the base of the structure. Beside the front gate in one of the guard towers, he spied a man in the familiar colors of Xiandol scanning the eastern road. Bently rode onward, moving in front of the gate.
“You there!” He called up to the man.
The guard looked down at him, his eyes adjusting to the light. They examined him before offering a nod and turning around to signal below. The two doors of the gate slid open slowly, allowing just enough room for Bently to walk the horse through, then swiftly closing after.
The settlement appeared similar to the state in which they had left it after the early morning attack several weeks previous. Bently hopped down from his horse and tied it up to one of the fence posts before marching up the long dirt road in the center of the area.
Scanning the area, Bently noticed the army of armored men, sitting quietly in formation. Up the hill, one of the Tuleforian buildings was lit with candle light spilling out the windows.
“There is that ridge on the horizon.” Bouglin explained, running his fingers over the markings on the map.
“It would be easy to form a defensive line, if the path down is really as narrow as it looks.” Kensley said.
“Yes, for either us or them.” The Captain added.
A knock came to the door, and Kensley stood to peer out the window before opening it. Bently had removed his helm in preparation as he stepped through the door.
“Well, good to have you back.” Kensley exclaimed, holding out his hand.
“Mr. Bently, we welcome you to our new outpost.” Boughlin commented, hardly looking up.
“It seems you made swift work of the Tuleforians.” Bently said, placing his hand against Kensley’s.
“Is Chin with you?” Kensley asked, looking outside past Bently before closing the door after him.
“He was held up by the Arcanus.” Bently lied, glancing at Boughlin to judge his reaction.
The Captain blinked a few times quickly in thought. “The Order is too nosy.” He responded uninterestedly.
“General Edrian would wish him back by the time he arrives.” Kensley said, pulling out a seat for Bently.
Bently waved the helmet in his hands back and forth. “I can’t allow myself to rest here, I would be out cold if I did.”
Kensley nodded and took the seat for himself. “You should find some place to shack up then, yourself. There are many free beds around the settlement that Tulefore left for us.” He joked. “We should be able to rest for at least the night undisturbed.”
“Is Scar anywhere about?” Bently asked, touring the room and peering out some of the windows.
“Back by the northern wall.” Kensley said, jutting his head in the general direction. “He’s keeping eye on a guest.”
“I shall say hello, then.” Bently announced. As he walked towards the door, he looked again at Boughlin. The Captain was leaned back in his chair, bored with the conversation.
“Goodnight, Mr. Bently.” He said gruffly, placing his hands behind his head.
Bently nodded and exited the room. He began to traverse the maze of buildings about the shallow hillside, looking for any signs of people. “Scar?” He called out.
Scarborough stood upon hearing his name, stepping out into the dim street. He waived down at the figure walking among the buildings before it came his way. He removed his helmet as he saw Bently approaching.
“Good travels?” Scarborough asked, taking Bently’s hand.
“As good as horseback could be. I heard we have a guest?”
Scarborough turned around and faced the opening into the dilapidated building. Kiaren had propped herself up against the side of the bed, her arms bound still uncomfortably at her side. “Their Commander, supposedly.” Scarborough said.
“You’ve been here most of the day, no?” Bently asked.
“See if you can’t find some food, enough to bring back to her. I’ll stand watch.”
“Yes, sir.” Scarborough nodded and marched off eagerly.
Kiaren peered up weakly at Bently as he entered the building. He crouched down close to her level and carefully placed his helmet down on the dirty floor. He then meticulously removed each of his gauntlets and put them beside the helmet. “Tulefore’s Commander, was it?”
Kiaren blinked slowly in reply, her body remaining limp inside the bonds.
“I must assume Tulefore expended all of its proper military leadership overseas, leaving a woman to hold the fort at the cold, quiet edge of the Empire?”
Kiaren sat up and bared her teeth at Bently. “It’s far from quiet now, is it?”
Bently laughed and carefully sat down on his bottom, the gear beside his crossed legs. “So I can get a reaction out of you. You somehow weren’t present when we first assaulted this settlement.”
“My bodyguard and I were surveying your very own settlement from atop one of the ridges.” Kiaren said. “Unfortunately, there was no army to look upon, that time or any.”
“Your bodyguard? You aren’t referencing Shiloh, are you?”
Kiaren perked up slightly. “You were at Arkyan, as well? What did you have to do with him?”
“He decided to attack me, barely provoked.” Bently laughed. “The Arcanus herself came to break up the fight.”
Kiaren struggled against the bonds, wincing from the pain in her rib. “This is no laughing matter.”
Bently picked up one of the gauntlets and played with the hinge covering one of the finger plates. “Of course not. He’s a respectable man, for a Tuleforian. He picked up a weapon, too, when that Dark Armor attacked even before I was present to aid him.”
“At Arkyan, too? You should know it says it no longer wishes to side with you or your land.”
“He was our Captain.” Bently diverted his eyes and peered off into the direction of the forest where Mandabus was located. “Even if the influence of the armor corrupted him, he’s likely still in there. I was told that he attacked you here, leaving his sword behind. I need to know where you have it.”
Kiaren turned her eyes back down in a scowl. “If you want it so bad, find it yourself. I will not aid you.”
Bently sighed and began to gather up the bits of armor from the ground. “I guess I shall tell Scar to leave any food for you behind.” He said, standing.
“Wait.” Kiaren called out, stopping him. “I… need to pee.”
Bently turned away and attempted to stifle his laugh. “Fine, then.” He turned back to the Commander and tugged at the tight bonds before grabbing at her shoulder to help her up. He looked around before pushing her around to the backside of the building.
Kiaren stood against the wall, breathing heavily, before looking back to Bently. “You’ll need to turn around.” She stated.
Bently sighed loudly and placed himself at the corner of the building, his back away. Kiaren undid the buckle on her pants and crouched down, relaxing her abdomen to relieve herself. Her eyes remained locked to Bently’s shoulder as she finished her business. She loudly scuffled her feet as she pulled her pants back up, before suddenly rounding the opposite corner and taking off in a run.
Bently rounded back from the opposite way around the building and cut her off, clotheslining her with his bare hand. Kiaren tumbled to the ground, the breath knocked out of her and the pain in her side throbbing. He slowly helped her up as the breath returned to her lungs.
“Did you wish to run off before hearing of the whereabouts of Shiloh and your mage, Zethurus?” Bently asked, gripping at Kiaren’s wrist roughly. “I could have easily let them die in the attack. It was that mage whom our captain was after.” He carried her slowly back to the room and plopped her down on the hard, dusty floor.
“Tell me where the sword is, first.”
Kiaren hesitantly pointed down the hill to a petite square building, with white window coverings on the inside. “In there, my quarters.” She said.
“Good.” Bently smiled. “Shiloh and Zethurus departed from Arkyan after they heard of our armies on their way to attack. I’m concerned what might become of your people should they wish to retaliate against us as we are.”
Scarborough marched back up the path, carrying a steaming bowl of soup, soaking into a piece of old bread that had been placed on top. Bently allowed him to pass and offer the food to Kiaren.
“Don’t let your guard down with her.” Bently offered advice to him as he knelt down to offer the food. “She’s already relieved herself.”
Scarborough turned back as Bently began to walk off back down the hill. The cramped square building had yet to be touched. The dying daylight was just bright enough to light up the room through the curtains. Bently pushed past the discarded items on the floor as he forced his hands back into the gauntlets. As he pushed aside the bed, he heard a clatter upon the floorboards below it. Flipping the lumpy mattress revealed the dull glow of the sword below.
Bently looked over his shoulder at the door before retrieving the sword. It was heavier than his own, and the tarnished metal seemed to resonate with a strange energy. He ripped into one of the sheets and entombed the sword in the fabric before sneaking back outside of the building, looking both ways down the street.
He continued northward towards the tall wall of the settlement. He first put his helmet back on before tossing the sword over. It landed with a dull thud on the dirt outside. Bently’s grip found traction between the bark stripped logs, and he gingerly hoisted himself up and over the pointed tips. The armor clinked loudly as he landed back down on his feet before retrieving the sword. In the distance, he could see the edge of the forest. He checked one last time behind him to make sure nobody had followed him before setting off.
The darkness had encompassed the land by the time Bently had reached the tree line. The enchanted armor allowed him to see slightly better in the near pitch blackness, but Mandabus was nowhere to be found. He marched down to the stream where he had last seen the old Captain. The babbling of the water disguised the sound of the dark armor sneaking up on him. Bently jumped as the heavy grip landed on his shoulder.
“Don’t do that.” Bently called out, turning around promptly.
“You have it.” Mandabus acknowledged, holding out his hand expectantly.
Bently unfurled the sword and tossed the cloth aside. “As you asked.”
Mandabus took the wide blade in his hand and examined the faint glow of the enchanted metal. “Good.” He said, shifting the handle into his grip. He recoiled from Bently, reeling the weapon back and releasing the full power of the swing into the man’s side before he could react.
The side plate of the armor buckled from the blow, and Bently tumbled away, landing limply in the stream with a loud splash. Mandabus calmly tucked the sword into the sheath upon his back before marching back to where he had tied up the horse.