Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Paladin-Part 18

Torquil returned to camp late in the evening. No one noticed until James and Thomas, still at the fire half-asleep, saw him return and take a seat; he returned as quietly as he left. No one spoke; no one needed to speak, for the look on Torquil's face and the captured daggers was enough. The three of them sat there, motionless and silent, and contemplated their next move.

Though none of the men that James lead possessed the qualities of that group of hidden exiles, they seemed nonetheless to confer without conversation and agreed to a course of action. Torquil left early to scout ahead while James got the Hamilton twins to get the men together, and Thomas took the time to prepare a few contingencies that his conception of the course to come pointed out to him overnight. Without incident, the warriors of the White Tower struck camp and moved out once more towards Silver Top Mountain.

Distant, but again on the way to intercepting the band from the Tower, were two of the Champions of Kogone: the mutant warrior called "Red", for his eyes, and the bold infernalist- Nim. They stood at the van of a band of thralls, barbarian mutants one and all, from the tribes yet to be raided by the White Tower warriors. Aware, but only partly, of where their enemies were they moved out to the last known sighting to catch the track and then run down their quarry.

The two warbands roam freely and swiftly across the wilderness ranging near Silver Top Mountain. The warriors of the White Tower resume their strategy of guerilla-style raiding amongst the mutants held in thrall by the Cult of Kogone; the Champions of Kogone track them, using the wake left not only as a trail, but as a way to push speed over all else in order to close the distance and force a battle. This did not at all seems to be anything underhanded by Kogone's champions, for Nim told Red that he had a means to pinpoint the band's location once they drew near- and it was this hope that allayed suspicions of being out-maneuvered.

That hope proved false. James now had a good grasp of his enemies' minds, and with that he meant to put his foes down. Raiding enemy tribes, as he'd done before, did not merely exacerbate the cult's problems with morale and logistics- it also forced the cult to reaction to James, ceding the initiative to him, and that meant that the time and place of battle was his to decide, and decide he did.

The next battle came at a defile that narrowed the path to a very narrow place with sheer walls of earth on other side. The White Tower band lured them into the defile and then closed the ends on either side. Surrounded, Red wisely rallied his men and rushed the far side hoping to break through and quickly reverse the situation, but at that end stood James at the tip of the angled shield wall. Thomas led the other one and through his magic they swiftly moved up the defile to catch Red in a pincer move. Nim, again, did not get a chance to intervene; as he prepared to rain fire down upon James and his men, Torquil ambushed him from a prepared shallow pit. With Nathan's poisoned blades in his hands, he stabbed the infernalist with both dagger; each sunk through the sides, between the ribs and skewered a lung- the wounds and the poison combined to shock him, steal his breath in mid-incantation and made his black heart explode instantly. Mirthless Torquil released the blades, let the demon-user slump to the ground with a leaden thump and then drew his sword; moments later, Nim's head flew ungainly through the air and fell before the throng of the barbarians.

Red and James met at the press between barbarian and civilized warriors, with the big red-eyed and green-skinned mutant bashing away with his mighty battle axe. Finally he cleft his foe's shield in twain, forcing James to release its ruined hold, and as the wall closed to cover the gap James put both hands on his spear to keep Red and his axe at bay- fighting over the wall now from the second rank. James knew that he had not the might to hold Red off by himself, and wished that Cavil were there (for Cavil did have that might), but he also knew that he need only hold Red there just a little longer.

Torquil signalled to Thomas that Nim now lay dead, and thus no longer posed a threat; this allowed Thomas to finally cut loose, and he did. Buoyed into the air by means of a modest levitation, his hands burst into flames. Calling forth his own rage and anger made using the secret lore of fire much easier, as a burning wrath within is a known technique to manifest a burning fire without, he hurled horrible boulders of fire so destructive that those thralls impacted instantly incinerated and screamed so sorrowfully that the slaughter sicked them all- and, out of mercy, soon ceased.

Red alone survived. Severely burned, his axe sundered, his men so many charred corpses, he gamely stood against a rock while his foes surrounded him. Finally, James and Thomas approached.

"You are beaten. You have no mercy to expect from your masters." James said, "Yet I am not like your kind. Surrender your knowledge, and you shall regain your life- so long as you leave all lands wherein the People of the Tower may dwell or divine."

Red coughed. "Exile? In return for treachery? You know not my masters. I will tell you nothing."

Just then, Torquil joined his fellows, but again the eyes told of another's presence.

"You will." came Sybil's voice, as he locked eyes on Torquil, "You will tell us everything."

Red's face revealed the terror he felt in his broken bones. He told, compelled, all he knew- and that was not a small thing. Then, without warning, Red fell over dead.

"Magic." Thomas said, "I cannot sense the presence of any soul any longer. I suspect that his masters ripped it from him."

"No, he will return." Sybil said, "Expect worse things."

"Indeed, we shall." James said, and the party departed, fortunately none the worse- this time.

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