The count’s hired swords knew there would be no easy victory against the red-helm knights. The two elite knights versus fifteen mercenaries, full-body plate armor versus overwhelming number, and a life time of training for war versus a life time of fighting for survival was the premise. Mallets smashed into sturdy bucklers, swords met unbreakable gauntlets and within seconds, first blood was drawn.
Two elite knights versus fourteen mercenaries was the new premise.
Steve the ironsmith charged into the fray, a tower shield in each of his hand. A morning star landed on his back, he flinched and paused to glare at the man at the handle-end of the spiked steel ball. His unarmored back shrugged off the hit; he got away with only indentations and no blood.
The man fumbled on his ass and dropped his weapon. His eyes widened, complexion turned pale as more and more of his friends were cut down all around him. Blood dripped and gathered in ponds around the knights’ feet. The mercenary, stuttering “monsters, monsters” in snorts and tears, crawled on all four and scrambled for the exit.
The fight had been brutal but it was far from over. Back to back, the knights fended off six assailants at once. The ironsmith stood his ground and prevented the remainder of the mercenaries from en massing the knights.
Amid the chaos, Alexander D’Amore drew from a leather pouch a brown gold cylinder, roughly half a fist-wide in diameter, and aimed the cylinder at the knights.
The inventor looked up. His lips felt the moist and saltiness of blood bleeding out from a glass cut across his cheek. But, the cold running up his spine did not come from blood loss; it came from the sight of a lightning pipe Alex was holding between his long, slender fingers.
Alexander D’Amore had his fingers wrapped around the side of a cylindrical artifact. Safety lid was off. His thumb curved on the trigger switch at the enclosed butt of the pipe. A lightning ray captured in a pipe was an instrument of war unique to Fa’elin civilization. It set forth a lightning force as mighty as a platoon of war mages. It was a terrifying weapon, the only known weapon capable of melting a dragon’s scale that could be wielded by anyone, even a toddler.
Electricity surged from inside the pipe. Magic runes sealing the lightning ray unraveled. Lightning arced from cracks on the pipe’s surface to metal objects nearby. An invisible hemispherical barrier protected the wielder and everything behind him from the leaking lightning force. Then, the barrier rapidly contracted, folding inward toward the business’s end of the pipe, concentrating lightning into a bubble of boiling power.
Leo knew he had to stop this mad man. He leaped and tackled Alex right after the lightning pipe was set off. He was a split second too late.
Steve dashed in front of the knights and put two layers of shields between them and the lightning ray. Mastercraft steel was no match for the bottled up force of nature. Like a hot knife through butter, the lightning ray melted clean through two tower shields, the ironsmith’s torso and all the way through the captain’s plate armor, chain mail, gambeson and flesh. It destroyed the brick wall behind them, continued punching through several market stalls and only stopped when it struck the jet black obsidian pillar at the central square three building blocks away.
The shock wave following the lightning wrecked further havoc. It swept everything in its path hundreds of meters away and turned debris into deadly projectiles.
There were screams of anguish but none could be heard.
Vertigo, deafness and shock set in as the loudest thunderclap ever struck a human’s ear erupted. Even the man who caused his scene was dumbfounded by the destruction. Never before had a lightning pipe been discharged in urban area and, as the dusts settled down, it became painfully clear why lightning pipe was banned even as a siege weapon.
Alex yanked his leg off Leo’s grip and disappeared into the alleyways. No one could stop him then.
Shortly after the thunderclap announced the massacre to the world, the elder dragon of Azeth emerged from the clouds and landed near the obsidian pillar. It sank its jaw into the pillar, carving out the dead lightning ray, tiny in comparison to its size, and eating the creature on the spot.
Those who were not killed by the lightning, debris, or concussion suffered deep cuts, broken bones, skin burns and severe paralysis. They badly needed help but no help would come when a dragon as tremendous as the Ruby Garden castle itself laid claim of the territory.
The city guards watched from afar a great flame set by the lightning ray spreading over the district, consuming house after house, survivor after survivor. They were powerless, insignificant dirt under the claws of a mythical presence.
The dragon’s snake-like, elliptical pupils instill a fear so primal, it was paralyzing to those who caught glimpse of these eyes. The titanic form of this winged creature could be seen all over Ironheart. Its shadow plunged three nearby districts into total darkness.
Leonardo di Price had witnessed death and destruction before; after all, he was an herbalist and war architect; but never had he witnessed death and destruction of this closeness and scale. His body trembled uncontrollably, hair straightened, vision blurred, head drummed the pain of a thousand pecking, and his ears, dysfunctional.
He shoved a hand over his mumbling mouth. This was not the time to call God. He must find…his allies.
“Steve!” he shouted.
No response. And, he could not hear his own voice; it felt awkward.
“Steve!” he tried again.
If there were a response, he would not be able to hear it. But he pressed on shouting.
He stumbled upon a detached left arm of a knight. The shredded arm guard embroidered in golden threads told him this belonged to the captain. A large chunk of the torso still clung to the arm though it was sizzling and smelled like roasted ham.
In the rubble across the street he spotted movements. His eyes, then cleared up and no longer blurred, darted to the source of the movements. There stood Katherine, lumbering away from a crumbling wall.
“Katherine!” he shouted.
She kept on walking across his field of vision, removing her red helm and cast it on the ground as she did. Then, she removed her gauntlets and hastened the pace.
His eyes shifted, he finally saw what she was seeing.
He saw her lips mumbled these words. He too dragged his feet toward the corpse of the knight captain.
Joshua’s torso was almost gone. His armor was glowing red hot around the edges. There was no blood; everything inside him was cooked alive.
Katherine must have realized this too when she touched him. Her hands retracted from the heat by reflex. Agony and desperation were her descriptive words; she kept trying to pry the plate armor off his flesh.
Finally, the inventor stepped in. He grabbed her hand before she hurt herself further. She lifted her chin to look at him. The terror on her face was indescribable.
For a moment, there was a glimmer of hope in her eyes. Now, it was her turn to grab him. She grabbed his wrists, her mouth moved as if telling him something. His hearing had yet to recover and he could not make sense of her stuttering mumble jumble.
Stuttering mumble jumble was the only classification he could tell from reading her lips.
But she was shoving his hands into the captain’s red hot armor. Her grip strength was tremendous; his wrists felt like they could snap like twigs and he could not break free. It was as bad as it looked.
“I am an herbalist, not a god! I can’t bring back the dead.”
Dammit. She could not hear anything he said. She kept pulling his hands into molten metal.
“Gahh! Let go! I say let go!”
His fists touched the hot surface. He yanked harder and harder. Suddenly, before he knew it, he was able to overcome the knight’s strength and she toppled on top of him.
“Salubrious. Minor Inflammable.”
He could hear again.
A female voice announced two magic spells; the latter he recognized burned the remnant of Captain Joshua to ashes. Then a male voice announced the third spell:
Leo knew these voices.
In the darkened backdrop of embers and smokes; the silvery rosaries the bishop, the deacon and the princess wore seemed bindingly bright in his eyes. The city had dispatched all their magicians; the ones whose wield the rare gift of magic. Each of these mages could take on a legion of knights and emerge victorious.
The captain was no more; only his armor remained. Katherine continued to cry, digging her hands in the ashes that used to be the knight captain.
“On your feet, Katherine Livingston!” the princess commanded, “I hereby name you captain of red helm guard and grant you permission to take my horse.”
Her stern voice resounded and bore grandeur similar to that of the baron. Princess Lilia descended to ground level and shoved the reins in Katherine’s hand.
“Take her and make sure she reaches the castle safely.”