THE LOST PRINCE: PART V – THE PROTECTOR OF ASHENMORE (PT. 2)
Make sure to read Chapter V – The Protector of Ashenmore Pt. 1 before reading Pt. 2, so you don’t spoil the story for yourself!
THE LOST PRINCE, PART FIVE:
THE PROTECTOR OF ASHENMORE
“I’m sorry, Demetrius,” croaked Ooma, forlornly. “It appears your journey has been in vain.”
“No, the fault was mine,” I replied, smiling through the tears that, once again, were beginning to creep behind my eyes. “This whole quest has been the errand of an old fool. I honestly believed that the prince I sought would have been the same young boy I once had the privilege to teach… the idea that a dozen years wouldn’t have altered the boy’s perspective, or his values… what a fool I was!” I laughed, nodding at Lazrilus. “All it took was one trip over the seas to change the heart of a treacherous Vomoran cultist!”
“Just for once,” muttered Lazrilus, “it would be nice for you to offer me a compliment, without sneaking through an insult.”
“So, what will you do now, Demetrius?” asked Una. “Will you return to Ashenmore?”
“I don’t suppose I have a choice,” I sighed. “I can’t just abandon my homeland to Midon and his lackey’s… though, what good I can do, I don’t know. I’ll have to think of something. Perhaps, if I go north, I’ll be able to find some cities that have escaped the influence of the Council.”
“Well,” said Lazrilus. “Wherever you’ll go, I’ll follow. I’d more than love the chance to tear out the throat of that puffed up buffoon, Midon.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, my bloodthirsty friend,” I chuckled, “but I’d think carefully, before you make any promises.” I gestured to Una, who, sensing what I was about to say, raised a tentative hand to her belly.
“You’re about to become a Father, if Far Seer is to be believed,” I said. “You can’t just go gallivanting back across the Thaltian channel, just for the sake of revenge. Assuming I’m not immediately captured by Midon’s forces, my battle against the Council will be drawn-out, bloody, with little hope of victory, unless Ahasathoth himself sees fit to intercede. Why don’t you stay here? You and Una could make quite a comfortable life for yourself, on Kazore-”
“Ah, of course,” snorted Lazrilus. “As long as we avoid getting torn to shreds by those Eclipse Sisters, and don’t go anywhere near the Sisters of the Trees, yes, we’ll be very safe!”
“I already told Una,” said Ooma. “No Sister will harm you, as long as you live under the protection of the Sisters of the Land. You’re more than welcome to stay with us!”
“Not that long ago,” said Lazrilus, “I was living in a cage, surrounded by pirates. Not long before that, I was locked in a room. Before that, I was hiding inside a boat. Before that, I was living as a servant to a deranged Sorcerer… Oh, he certainly did his best to protect me! I’ve had enough of living in fear. I’ll help you, Demetrius. If nothing else, for the chance to live in a land free from oppression. When I help you overthrow Midon, I expect you to give me a full pardon!”
I laughed at this. Una joined in.
“Don’t forget about me,” she added. “I’m not an invalid after all. I’ll conjure up a wave, large enough to wash away this Midon brute and all of his cronies.”
“How exciting!” cried Ooma. “I think I’ll join you in this mad quest. Anything’s better than having to endure the eternal bickering of my Sisters!”
I bowed my head before the ancient Priestess, my was bursting with elation – albeit a mournful, terrified sort of elation. Even with the combined strength of two Priestesses and a Necromancer, there was little chance we would be able to overturn the reign of Midon’s Council.
Before I could properly thank my companions, Santos leapt out of the pitch-black entrance of his temple, brandishing a thick brown book. The wild, frenzied light had returned to his eyes and, upon his lips, played a broad and quivering smile. My elation started to flicker. I didn’t want the prince to burst into another tirade about Gods and cults and strange cosmic battles. The prince sat in the centre of our little gathering. He threw open the book and beckoned for us all to draw closer. Santos pointed at a large, slightly discoloured sketch of a man dressed in a cloak of fire, plunging a long, thin staff into the head of a giant legless beast. I stared at the beast’s endless mouths, its splayed tentacles, every one of which was tipped with a long, curved talon. I recognised the image of the creature that haunted most of Ashenmore’s oldest and most sacred myths: The Dukkahworm.
“Asha, the First King of Ashenmore,” whispered Santos, pointing at the burning figure that had been etched in the middle of slaying The Dukkahworm. “Now, he was certainly not an Avatar of Ahasathoth. Nor was he a demigod, as I heard some Sorcerer’s from the Rarthun Empire seem to believe. Exactly what he was, I have not the time to say, perhaps you might think of him as a reincarnation… of sorts… descended from that supposed God. The ancient myths proclaim that, during the climax of his final battle against the Worm: The Fire-King, Asha, of the Burning Cloak and golden skin, did leap upon the bloody skull of The Dukkahworm. Before the evil Worm could fight back, the Golden King, Asha, plunged his fiery staff, deep into the flesh of the beast and, speaking in the ancient tongue of the God AHASATHOTH, he sent the flames of his cloak racing along his back, down his arm, through his staff and deep, into the skull of the Dukkahworm, and so, the ancient Worm was burned from the inside out by the terrible divine fire of AHASATHOTH.” Santos raised his eyes, staring at me. The mad smile of his face had grown even wider, stretching from ear to ear.
“Much of that great story is, of course, just that – a story. There is no evidence, in these records, that Asha ever wore a cloak of fire, or that he sent these flames down into the Worm’s skull. The staff, however,” said Santos, tapping the picture for emphasis. “That is a lot more interesting. Its origins are a complete mystery. Not even Kanandus knows for certain where it came from. What he does claim is that – whatever it was – that staff possessed a terrible power, and it was that power that allowed Asha to slay The Dukkahworm. Imagine, old friend, if you were able to wield such power yourself. You’d be able to defeat any army that Midon sent your way! No one,” whispered Santos, “would be able to stop you.”
I stared at the page, my eyes flickering over the diminutive figure of Asha, and his magical staff. I frowned, peering at the staff’s pointed tip, and the strange, serpentine coil that seemed to have wrapped itself around the base of the weapon.
“Even if you’re right,” I said, speaking slowly, never taking my eyes off the picture. “How would we be able to find such a weapon? Surely such a weapon has been lost to the ages?”
“Not at all,” said Santos. “The book tells us exactly what happened to the staff, and where it now rests.”
We stared at the prince, waiting for him to continue.
“For fifty years, Asha wielded the staff, using its power to quell the rival tribes of the North, and to purge to Worm’s children, The Vermites, uniting all the fragmented peoples of Ashenmore into the kingdom that you have grown to love, my dear Demetrius. It was during this period of the kingdom’s foundation that Kanandus began to write this book. Then, all of a sudden, Asha left his throne with two men, his personal guard and, when he returned, the staff was no more. The Fire-King died days later, although on this, Kanandus is uncharacteristically vague. He merely writes: And so, the First King ceased to be. There’s no description of a funeral, or cause of death… Anyway, as for these two men, the personal guards who saw where the King hid his staff, one of them left Ashenmore, and went on to become a powerful Thaltian knight. The second guard lived for many years as an advisor to Asha’s children, until, on his deathbed, he revealed to Kanandus what had become of the staff. The old man, so the book claims, reached beneath his bed and, to the surprise of Kanandus, drew it from under the sheets!”