Friday, October 16, 2009

Paladin-Part 8

On the morning after, the company of young warriors took their leave of Donaldson's garrison and once more struck for the frontier. They passed through the rest of the lands settled by those of the elder generation that, having married, earned their own house; this comes with the duty to contribute economically to the welfare of the People of the Tower as well as see to the security thereof through military or medical service in the nearby citadel.

They passed through other local garrisons, and they celebrated as they did with that of Donaldson's garrison, but without the incidents of that stay. James and Thomas, heeding Torquil's warning, kept the hot-headed and cocky youth busy with chores masked as means to exhibit his might. Many days later, the company arrived at one of the People's frontier fortresses.

This one, closest to Silver Top, is a magnificent work of steel and stone named for the hero that first took command of it and led many missions against the barbarians beyond its reach: Kellion's Hold. Its central tower rises high into the air, allowing a clear view to the White Tower as well as to the other fortresses in the chain along the border. Its walls, tall and thick, celebrated in song as proof against the blows of the behemoths of the hordes beyond as well as the sorcery of those that command them. Its catacombs underneath, though significant in size, are long known as proof against sapping. Forges and furnaces bring warmth to the men within, and boilers use it to power other machines and mechanisms within or upon its walls.

Beholding it, Torquil smiles, awed by the site. "It's one thing to hear stories, or to see from afar, but to be this close!"

"Indeed." one of the Hamilton twins said, and then the other spoke "As that is our next destination, you shall see all soon enough."

Cavil grinned a wicked smile, and said "Finally! The men of the border marches are renown for their courage and prowess, and none moreso than those at these fortresses."

James and Thomas, hearing the chatter, nodded to each other. Each knew that the other found it wise, for now, to let them talk. Then Thomas, drawing forth his disc, caught the sunlight and signaled the great gleaming tower of Kellion's Hold. The tower returned the signal, and then Thomas looked into the disc. He saw the image of the Hold's resident wizard, a man named Adrian, appear.

"Call your men to halt and wait until summoned." Adrian said, "You cannot yet hear it, but we see a raiding party come to try us in force, and we cannot permit you to approach during combat. Warlord Scott demands full attention be put to the battle, as this party comes with one of the sorcerers in the van. You understand."

Thomas nodded his understanding, and then Adrian continued, saying "Watch for parties slipping through. Intercept if you can. Hold out."

James turned to the men and called for a halt. He explained the situation, putting emphasis upon the need to watch for elements attempting to slip past the fortress, as he foresaw--correctly--that this is what would prove acceptable to the men. Forming into a wide formation meant to cover ground while maintaining clear communication, the men road around the area on watch. Hours passed, and the distant din of battle proved that indeed the fight was fierce and savage; the Hold's many pneumatic weapons fired often, and from the walls or tower came spells of varying effects and powers- all of them horrific to the mutant barbarians attempting to storm the fortress. Fire erupted about them, incinerating some and funneling others into smaller units that the garrison could better engage. Cannons launched projectiles into the assaulting horde, projectiles that shattered on impact and released explosive or toxic forces that slew certainly- if not instantly.

As the masters of the Hold expected, this was a ruse. Passing along the far end of the fight were a small group, lead by a fair-seeming man riding a monstrous mockery of a horse. Cavil and Torquil sited them first, and soon the others rallied to their position. Thomas, again using his disc, gazed upon the enemy.

"The leader is one of the sorcerers we've heard so much about." Thomas said, "Those with him are his bodyguard."

Without hesitation, James called the attack and the company rode to intercept. Fast upon the enemy they closed, and as they closed details became clearer to them; James recognized that the sorcerer wore the infamous accouterments of one that traffics with demons, and--seeing that he rode a demonic horse--assumed reasonably that the obvious was fact. Both groups ready bows, and upon entering effective range they fired.

Mounted archery continued with each group exhibiting that, though capable, neither group is particularly proficient at it. Instead, the groups wheeled closer and closer to melee, seeking and avoiding charges in turn, until Thomas--passing the reigns of his horse to James--worked a sympathetic spell that instantly transmuted the ground about the enemy to a thick mud. This risk--a risk proved by the number of arrows James warded with his shield--changed the encounter, forcing contact.

Throwing the reigns back to Thomas, James drew his spear and lead the charge. Just before contact, however, the infernalist made a motion as if cracking a nut and tossed the shell to the ground. The ground before the men exploded, unhorsing them, and before them now appears a massive creature of stone and Hellfire.

"Demon!" Thomas said, as he scrambled to his feat, but before Thomas could cast some spell to contain it he caught the infernalist out of the corner of his eye--hands both aflame--casting a spell at him. Without thought, Thomas shot forth his hand as if striking the infernalist in the throat; his foe staggered as if struck, the flames snuffed out, and gasped for air.

James, now on his feet, interposed himself between Thomas and the demon. The other men rallied around James, and they formed a shield wall about Thomas. The bodyguard, bolstered by the demon's presence, followed the field into engaging the warriors. At the focal point stood James and Cavil, with each giving full attention to the demon; the others held the bodyguard at bay.

Thomas, seizing the initiative, instantly processed in his mind the threats before him and acted. Brilliant power flared about Thomas's hands as he spoke the spell's invocation, sounding much like the bards or skalds of peoples long ago, and made firm in his mind the visualization of the infernalist's transformation into a cow. A few second later, though seeming like years, Thomas released the spell and with a flash of light and a crack of thunder the demon-trafficking sorcerer became a harmless cow.

James and Cavil thrust spears against the stone hide of the demon, and their shields held against the punishing blows, but the heat soon rose to uncomfortable levels. In the moments after putting the sorcerer out of the fight, Thomas turned and unleashed a massive barrage of raw magical force; pouring forth from his outstretched hand, he bore into the demon with a potent beam of brilliant power. Sensing the heart of the demon's form, he drilled through the rock and obliterated it; slain, it collapsed, and soon followed the bodyguard.

Meanwhile, the sorcerer--proving himself not weak of mind--broke the spell holding him. Seeing his escort slaughtered, and not wishing to follow them into death, he drew and broke a slim palm-sized slate; instantly he disappeared, and Thomas guessed that it was a prepared spell sending him back into the wilds.

"I think that we'll see that one again, and soon." Thomas said to James.

James moved about, checking the men for wounds, and nodded his agreement. Meanwhile, riders from Kellion's Hold approached.

"Well done!" the lead rider said, "Warlord Scott and Magister Adrian await your report, and seeing as your horses are calm and--thankfully--unharmed we would have you come back with us immediately."

The company looked to James, and James signaled to mount up. Turning to the riders, he motioned towards the Hold and said "To Kellion's Hold!"

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