THE LOST PRINCE: PART V – THE PROTECTOR OF ASHENMORE (PT. 2)
After several hours of scrabbling and ploughing deeper and deeper into the earth, Lazrilus froze, his grey face covered in a thick sheen of sweat.
“I can feel something,” he hissed. I shivered. Despite the hours of toil that the pair of us had put into digging, the shadow cast over our group by the crumbling monolith of the decaying temple had utterly stripped my body of warmth. The ancient tree writhed against the breeze, it’s bloated roots now smeared with numerous mounds of freshly disturbed mud. Una and Ooma rose to their feet in alarm. Zorin leaned forward, squinting. In the distance, a small crowd of around two dozen of Zorin’s followers looked on, chattering in hushed, frantic tones amongst themselves. Lazrilus narrowed his eyes and, with a faint grunt of effort, heaved long, thin chest made out of dark black wood out of the ground. I darted forwards and, together, the pair of us managed to drag this chest away from the tree, towards our companions.
Zorin crept forward.
“So,” he murmured. “What exactly is this weapon you’re trying to find?”
“It’s a long story,” muttered Ooma. “I’ll do my best to keep it brief. The former prince of Ashenmore told us that there’s a magical staff buried here, one powerful enough to kill a monster called The Dukkahworm, that Demetrius thinks we could use to fight against Lysander.”
“The Dukkahworm?” Zorin frowned, bewildered. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
Ooma pulled Zorin aside, leaving Una, Lazrilus and I staring at the long black chest. Una shivered.
“So,” said the young priestess. “Are you going to open it?”
“I don’t know if I can,” I whispered. “What if Santos is wrong? If we’ve come all this way for nothing? What then?”
“Ah,” muttered Lazrilus. “Let’s not think about that until we have to. Open it up, damn you!”
I took a deep breath and, summoning my courage, tore open the chest. I recoiled, expecting to be struck by a sudden bolt of lightning, or a wave of enchanted fire, or some other magical assault. When nothing happened, I leaned forward, staring inside the chest. My eyes fell upon a long, thin stick, made of a strange, silver-flecked metal that I couldn’t recognise. The shaft was adorned with several miniscule rubies and, around its pointed tip, I could see dozens of tiny, undiscernible symbols had been etched. The resemblance to the royal sceptre was truly uncanny, although, this staff was much smaller, barely stretching the length of my forearm – a sharp contrast to the mighty, skull-piercing staff that had been depicted in Kanandus’ book.
Slowly, I reached into the chest and, suddenly, plucked the staff and held it as far away from my face as possible. When it became clear that this weapon wasn’t going to burst into flames, I gradually lowered it, placing the silver sceptre onto my lap.
“Do you… feel anything?” asked Una, eyeing the staff as though it was a dangerous snake.
“Nothing,” I replied. I picked it up once more, my apprehension giving way to anger. “Maybe Santos was wro-”
Suddenly a jagged sliver of crimson light burst from the pointed tip of the weapon, snaking through the air and striking one of the temple’s crumbling walls. I fell backwards in alarm as the section of the wall that the crimson light appeared to strike ruptured outwards in a fiery explosion, causing the earth and sky itself to quiver in unison. Crimson smoke slithered from a fresh gaping wound in the temple’s flank. In the distance, I saw a small mob of men and women surging towards us. Zorin’s jaw hung wide open, his eyes bulging with fright. Una and Lazrilus were equally stunned. It was Ooma who first broke the silence. The old woman leapt about a foot in the air, cackling.
“You felt that didn’t you!?” cried the old priestess. “If you can do that again, we’ve got nothing to fear! We’ll smash through those gates like a storm through a twig!”
After several days of marching, we reached the mighty wall of Ashuron. With the aid of a telescope provided to me by Brother Zorin, I scanned the top of the battlements. My heart sank in despair. The wall was overflowing mostly Lysander’s guards, alongside what must have been fifty or sixty Vomoran warriors – including, I noticed with dread, one or two of the sinister Necromancers drifting in-between the thick mob of soldiers like trains of black smoke. Even with the mighty staff clenched in my right fist, I couldn’t help but be cowed by such a mighty display of enemy troops, and that wasn’t even a quarter of the forces Lysander had at his disposal!
“Shall we begin?” asked Una. I nodded and, at once, the young priestess began to sing. I raised the staff, high above my head and, at once, around two dozen of Zorin’s followers, led by Ooma, surged out from the trees. We had split our forces in two and hidden them within a thick serpent of trees that snaked along the eastern border of Ashuron. We had provided Ooma with a small contingent of Zorin’s followers, tasking the elderly woman with providing a distraction, whilst Lazrilus and I advanced towards the western gate of Ashuron with the rest of our rebel fighters. I heard the distant, vicious cheer of Lysander’s guards, followed by the hideous crack of rifle fire. I suppressed a grin and, as Una continued to sing, I raised the telescope to my eye once more. I could already what the Lysander’s guards were thinking: Ah, here come some easy pickings! Little did they know that my little distraction involved a half-deranged priestess of Kazore.
Ooma hurled her little stone snake through the air and, before I could even blink, it erupted out of the ground into a giant, bellowing serpent, which tore across the emerald fields like a charging stallion. I grinned as, all along the wall, I saw men scurrying about in blind terror. I saw that one fellow was so stunned that he stumbled too hard to his right and, arms flaying, toppled over the battlements. Dozens more shots rang out, but there was no stopping the terrible stone golem. It smashed, head-first, into the wall, sending a further half a score of men caterwauling over the battlements. The rest of Ooma’s men hovered at a distance, picking out what soldiers they could with the limited number of rifles they had at their disposal.