Of Armor and Bone: Chapter 41 [Final]
Shiloh concentrated on the flashing of the set of horseshoes before him, shining each time the horse picked up its legs in the dim light. In the ocean of darkness beyond the road, he could see the the vague shape of the mountain range in the distance. “We must be getting closer to Lyeys by now, My Lord!” He called up to Danus in front of him.
The land in the distance flashed with a bright unnatural light before fading back to the ground. Shiloh peered back at Zethurus, who was keeping pace amongst the other robed magi. “Things have already started it seems!” The mage called out.
“For Tulefore!” Shiloh called out over the cacophony of the men’s horses. The group echoed the call in a righteous cry.
Charlstine stepped to the crumbling precipice of the ridge, just beyond where the proceeding army had been stopped. “Your foolish use of the magi’s stolen power has come to and end.” She taunted, staring Kensley in the eyes. “Know that today, the Order of Magi uphold the treaty, and request… compel your return home, where you may carry out your petty battles in your own barbaric way.”
The group of magi crept up behind the Arcanus, their hands lifted to the air as they focused their conjured power over the group of men. “Chin, you traitor!” Scarborough called out, his hand at Kensley’s back. “How can you choose these sycophants over your own people!?”
Chin turned his back to edge, ignoring the words.
“What power is this?” Kensley growled, his hand helplessly gripped to the hilt of the sword before him.
“The power of magic held in the hands of those who were born into it.” Charlstine smirked.
Kensley blinked into the bright magic cast by the magi atop the buff. “You may hold us at this standstill for as long as you like, but we will not tire or back down.”
“So be it.” Charlstine nodded. “If Xiandol is that petty, we will wait as well. Even if you are able to hold steady, your leaders will eventually wish to call an end to this foolishness. I can already see that man’s neck bulging. Somewhat reminiscent of Tulefore’s Emperor.”
Kensley turned his eyes down the slope just enough to see Edrian’s horse being paced back and forth beside Boughlin. Beside the road, through a patch of burnt brush, a tall dark figure stepped out onto the dirt.
Mandabus peered up the slope, patting at the hard leather sheath sitting at his back. As he took off in a sprint up the steep hill, he withdrew the wide blade from its compartment, the weight causing it to trail behind him. Charlstine took notice of him just as he reached the top of the ridge. Mandabus raised his sword for an overhead attack.
The Arcanus deflected the blow with a wave of ice projected from her hand, causing the blade to land in the dirt with a loud hollow thump.
Mandabus leaned into the swing, bringing his free hand around to meet with Charlstine’s side, knocking the breath from her and causing her to collapse over his arm. The other magi faltered and recoiled in an attempt to created distance between the dark armor and themselves. Kensley and the unit behind him regained their movement. He reacted and held his hand in a fist to the side, ordering the formation to hold in place.
Mandabus held the Arcanus up over his shoulder like a prize, her hands laying limply down his back. A loud clapping echoed from the base of the ridge as Edrian approached, his face turned up in a devilish smile. “Excellent work, Mandabus.” He boasted, guiding the horse partially up the slope.
“Edrian!” Mandabus called out, his voice booming. “I am not your pawn!” He growled. With a effortless lurch, he tossed the lithe body of the Arcanus tumbling down the hill and into the dirt.
“Join us once again, Mandabus!” Edrian ordered, watching as Charlstine slid down the side past him. “We can boast of this immense power before the seat of the Empire of Tulefore!”
“This power-!” Mandabus cried, holding his arms to the sky, the sword held high. “This power is a curse, binding me to this world! You sent me as a pawn, a fool on a suicide mission to prove the powers of this suit of armor, this weapon. You knew about this, the darkness contained in this weapon, didn’t you!? Rather than succumbing to death, because of this, I have become it!”
Mandabus swung the sword in an arc around his body, flinging a band of dark energy through the air around him. The magi, held dumbfounded in awe around him were struck, causing them to fall limply to the ground. Kensley flinched as the icy hot energy made contact with his chest, sizzling against the metal.
Edrian’s horse reared up as the energy dissipated into the cold darkness of the night. “If you no longer wish for that unique power, we shall recapture it from you!” The General called out, waiving his finger at Kensley.
“Mandabus, don’t do this!” Kensley called out to the dark armor.
Mandabus turned to the unit of men, still waiting for Kensley’s call. He planted the tip of the sword into the dirt, his hands resting upon the pommel. “Kensley, Scar. If you don’t make the first move, I will.”
Kensley shook his head and took one last glance at the unit of men, waiting impatiently.
“Scar.” He whispered. “Try to get the weapon from him.”
Scarborough made a quick nod, glancing to the Lieutenant. Kensley dug his feet into the dirt before yanking his own sword up out of the ground and raising it to the air.
Scarborough took point as the men rushed the lone man. Mandabus lifted the sword in one hand, swinging it into the first set of men to come close enough to him. Scarborough rolled under the swing and attempted to get behind the target, while Kensley kept a distance just outside of the sword’s reach. The armored men of the unit converged on Mandabus, blocking him from all sides as those in reach jabbed their swords at him.
“Now, Scar!” Kensley called out across the group of men. Scarborough jumped upon the backs of his allies, landing upon Mandabus. With one short sword drawn, he attempted to shove the blade between Mandabus’s hand and the grip of his sword.
Kensley pushed through the rabble of men, his sword stowed at his back. Mandabus fought against Scarborough who had managed to wrap his legs around his waist. Kensley ran at Mandabus, attempting to push his full force into shunting him off balance. Mandabus jutted out his free hand and intercepted Kensley, his gauntlet grasping around his neck.
The dark armor continued to struggle, his grasp still tight around the hilt of the sword despite Scarborogh’s efforts. Mandabus roared with an inhuman sound before bringing the sword before him, flipping it upside down. The tip of the sword made contact with the ground, sinking in several inches.
A wave of dark energy began to spread across the earth. The unit of men attempted to pull back but the compacted ring of people made escape impossible. One by one, the men began to fall as the darkness engulfed them, the suits of armor landing limply. Mandabus tossed Kensley off to the side, his body landing upon the pile of men. Scarborough was tossed off next, his grip lost on the short sword.
“I smell him!” Mandabus roared, standing atop the pile of fallen soldiers. “The one who struck me down!”
Kiaren exited the woods, still holding her side. She came upon the awaiting formation of horses from the Xiandolan General and Captain. Atop the ridge, the sole figure left standing was that of her captor. “I’m too late.” She hissed, catching her breath.
Bently turned and looked down upon her. “You! You’re alive.”
Kairen looked up at the mounted man, the sword held at his side. “That belongs to me, hand it over.”
“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but you’re in no condition to fight, especially against him.”
“My forces are on their way.”
“Shiloh? And that mage?” Bently squinted at her.
“I’ve brought that man to his knees before.” Kiaren insisted, lifting her palm up to the mounted man. “Don’t take Tulefore lightly.”
Bently shook his head, his teeth grit. “Get on, I’ll help you.” He said, stretching his hand down to yank Kairen up on the horse.
Shiloh’s horse bucked him as the second band of dark energy traveled through the air, making contact with the animal. Zethurus stopped at his side as others fell to the same attack. “Are you alright?” The mage bent down, offering him a hand up.
Shiloh stood and pulled the sword off his back, his eyes focused on the ridge ahead. “I’ll make it on my own. It’s you who should be careful. You’re his main target.”
“I understand that.” The mage nodded, kicking at his horse.
Shiloh began to sprint towards the top of the ridge. The mounted collection of soldiers had already engaged the dark armor, some having been felled to the wide range of it’s attacks. Ahead, Zethurus slid off his horse to begin assaulting the target with bursts of various energies.
“Mage, I will have your life!” Mandabus roared, the attacks ineffective against the suit of armor. Zethurus continued to step back in pace with him, focusing his energy in an attempt to paralyze the armor.
With a swing of his sword, Mandabus released a waive of dark energy before Zethurus could conceive the spell, causing its interruption. Shiloh ran at him, only for attack to cause his sword to shatter against the side of his arm.
Bently yanked on the reins of the horse as it mounted the steep slope, Kiaren holding onto him tightly around his waist. As she readied herself to jump, she gripped the handle of the Katzbalger under its cloth covering. The blade was as light as she remembered, despite her injuries. Bently urged the horse to head as close to Mandabus as it would accept before Kiaren rolled off, landing on the ground roughly.
“Lady Kairen!” Shiloh called out, running to her aid. “You’re alive!”
Kiaren stood, holding her side. Shiloh moved to her side and shoved her weight upon his shoulder. “I’m faring well, Mr. Shiloh.”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“This is for Tulefore. I need to be here.”
Danus and Silvus passed their horses back and forth between Zethurus and Mandabus as the dark armor continued to approach the mage, unable to be distracted.
Bently guided the horse off to the side before running to the fallen unit of men.
Scarborough had already risen back to his feet and had ran to Kensley to help him up. “This is a nightmare.” Bently rushed to them, moving around the fallen soldiers. He grabbed at Kensley’s heavy body as the lieutenant rose back to his feet. “That woman is here too. She has the weapon.”
Kensley found his own sword at his feet. “She may be better off with it.”
Zethurus continued to send blasts of ice at Mandabus, slowing his movement. The suit of armor seemed to glow with a dark energy, the sword hanging at the ground, ready to be hoisted in an attack at any moment. “I will end you, mage, for turning me into this corrupted being.”
“It was the darkness in your own heart that corrupted you! Your people just supplied you with the means.”
Mandabus grunted loudly before breaking more of the ice about his legs and leaning into a sprint. Just before reaching the mage, he was taken off balance by Shiloh jumping upon his arm. The strike from the Katzbalger came next to his back, sending him to his knees. Before Kiaren could wind up another attack from the sword, Mandabus threw Shiloh to the ground, his body hitting the dirt with a crack.
“Mandabus!” Kensley ran at him, his sword pointed for his spine. Mandabus swung back, deflecting the attack and sending Kensley sliding back across the dirt. Scarborough attacked from his side, attempting to shove the sole remaining short sword between the slots in the armor’s plating. The sword caught hold for a moment before snapping as Mandabus swung his arm back, swatting Scarborough away with the wide edge of the bastard sword.
Zethurus coated the ground with ice, entrapping Mandabus in the thick crystals of frozen water. The dark armor continued to drudge on, the ice shattering with his movements. Shiloh rolled on his stomach and wrapped his arms around Mandabus’s leg, his body dragged behind effortlessly.
Kensley lined up for another attack, his sword once again pointed at Mandabus’s back. He grit his teeth as he came close, the tip of the sword sinking into the armor. Mandabus roared as the blade continued to sink deeper.
Kairen swung her sword low, impacting the hefty blade upon Mandabus’s leg. The dark armor stumbled, causing him to kick Shiloh off. Mandabus gripped the sword ever tighter. He shoved the blade once again into the dirt to call upon the dark energy. Scarborough latched onto his arm, preventing Mandabus from securing his grip.
Kensley continued to press at the pommel of his sword, pushing the sword ever deeper into the armor, bit by bit. Kiaren swung a third time, smashing the Katzbalger into Mandabus’s shoulder. “This is for my brother!” The arm went limp as the plates of armor separated at the buckles where they were attached.
Mandabus began to fall to the ground, the weight placed upon his sword, plunged into the dirt. Shiloh stood to lean with Kensley against the sword, causing it to pierce out through the opposite side of the armor.
“It’s over Mandabus.” Kensley heaved, separating himself from the sword. Kiaren tumbled back upon the ground, spitting up more blood as she held onto her side.
Scarborough picked himself up as Bently came running, moving to the front of the group.
Zethurus approached, holding the incantation to bind the armor. Kensley circled Mandabus to face him.
“If you aren’t a coward, you will end me!” The dark armor barked.
Kensley shuddered and leaned into Mandabus, wrapping his fingers around the base of the helmet. Scarborough found a grip beside Kensley as they began to pull. Bently pulled with his bare hands over the ridge atop the helm, leaning his weight against it.
Mandabus roared with a hollow cry as the enchantment began to fail, the metal of the armor buckling. With one last strain, the helmet popped off, causing Scarborough to tumble backward. Kensley took the armor piece in his hand, examining the face of the man inside. The dead set of eyes seemed to examine him as they went cloudy and gray, any remaining sign of life in the skeletal visage gone.
Shiloh crawled to Kiaren, leaning into her to support her weight. Zethurus ran to her, the pale light of his healing enchantment washing over her side. Silvus jumped off his horse as he passed by, arriving at her side.
Kensley sighed and looked up at the pale sliver moon off in the distance towards Tulefore, while back on the western horizon, the sun had began to rise over the mountain. Boughlin rode his horse up, cautiously eying the decrepit body inside the suit of armor.
“A shame.” The Captain commented, waiting for Edrian to catch up.
“We may recover his armor, Mr. Kensley.” The General suggested as he arrived. “All is not lost. Tulefore shall know of our power nonetheless.”
Kiaren and Silvus eyed the Xiandolans, readying their weapons. Kensley marched in front of them, removing his helmet. “I will not take part in this. The only end we can come to with this power is destruction.”
Danus approached Edrian, his sword placed across his lap. Chin followed after on his own horse. “I’m told you are the commanding officer here.”
Edrian grit it teeth, glaring at the mage. “I will end you, traitor.”
“You will halt.” Danus rested his hand on the grip of the sword. “As second in line to the throne of Tulefore, I order you to step down from your horse. You shall be tried following the terms of the treaty of the Order of the Magi for your war crimes. Anyone else under your command is hereby ordered to return to your territory.”