THE LOST PRINCE: PART V – THE PROTECTOR OF ASHENMORE (PT. 2)
As all this chaos transpired, Una continued to sing. As her voice rose and fell, oozing between the trunks and branches of our natural barrier, a veil of mist started to materialise around the thirty-or-so men I had at my command. This mist thickened, growing into a nigh-impregnable curtain from which it was almost impossible to see past. Una’s voice shifted, her brow quivering with concentration, she rose to her feet, still singing. The mist parted, following the elevating pitch of her tones, forming a thick curtain above our heads and across our flanks whilst leaving our vision largely unobscured. I raised my staff once more and, silently, we started to creep forward. This was my plan. It was hardly the most sophisticated military strategy but, in the limited time I had, it was the best I could come up with. Whilst Ooma and her giant golem were creating as much devastation as she could muster, we, under the cover of Una’s mist, would creep towards the western gate. Once we arrived at the gate, I would use the enchanted staff to blow the metal door asunder. From there, we would begin the long advance across the city of Ashuron, towards Tamburlaine’s former palace.
We crept further and further forward, scarcely daring to breath. Although the swirling veil of mist prevented us from looking on at the skirmish between Ooma’s golem and Lysander’s guards, the deafening roar of the stone leviathan, coupled with the hollers and screams of dying men made me shudder. The western gate loomed before us, growing larger and larger and more and more imposing the closer we got. All of a sudden, a shrill screech caught my attention. I raised my head and, with horror, found myself staring up at one of the Vomoran Necromancers, glaring over the battlements. The Necromancer screeched again, gesticulating wildly and spitting out a whole slew of unintelligible curses. This Necromancer was instantly joined by a second Necromancer and, moments later, the two of them began to chant. In response to this united chant, I saw several skeletal, gaunt shapes heaving themselves over the battlements before scuttling, like emaciated insects, down the wall.
It was the undead members of Midon’s former Council! Down the wall they crawled, black slime slobbering from their dangling, broken jaws. The first wave was quickly followed by a dozen more of the undead, with one or two more stragglers still crawling over the top of the wall. The undead dropped to the ground, not paying their shattered limbs and broken fingers any attention, before they started to crawl towards us, some tottering on their hind legs, others dragging themselves on all fours. Brother Zorin swore and raised Midon’s pistol into the air and fired at the horde of corpses. Black blood and alabaster rotting flesh erupted out of the ruined chest of one of the shuffling corpses. The corpse paid the wound no mind, and continued loping towards us, snarling and slavering like a wild animal.
“We’ve got to stop them!” howled Zorin. “If those monsters get close to us, they’ll tear us to pieces!”
“The Bishops!” cried Lazrilus, seizing my shoulder and pointing at the two chanting Necromancers. “Use your stick and aim for the Bishops, quickly!”
Hastening to obey, I raised the staff and willed it to fire. A crimson streak of light burst from its pointed tip and soared, in an almost graceful manner, towards the two Necromancers striking the wall just beneath them. The battlements shook under the blow of a mighty explosion and the two Necromancers were consumed by a crimson sphere of fire. Just as the wave of murderous corpses were almost upon us, a third of them crumpled in a motionless heap. The remained undead beasts merely ceased their advance and, almost pitifully, began to shuffle in numerous different directions, without aim or malice. The wounded corpses took several clumsy steps in our direction, until another shot from Zorin shattered the creature’s skull and felled the undead monster. The top half of the battlements where the Necromancers had been standing was ablaze, and red smoke billowed into the sky. Zorin’s followers roared with euphoria. Una ceased singing and, at once, the mist collapsed into nothingness.
“Onwards, Demetrius!” bellowed Brother Zorin, pointing with Midon’s pistol. “Blast open those gates and let’s take back our great city!”
I raised the staff once more and begged whatever hidden power the staff possessed to fire again. The crimson light darted through the air and demolished the towering, ancient gates as easily as a child might snap a twig. Zorin cheered and lunged forwards, waving Midon’s pistol above his head like a silver torch. I charged after the stocky Cleric, with Lazrilus and the others following me. In the distance, the battle between Ooma’s golem and Lysander’s guards raged on.
As we charged across the streets of Ashuron, I caught endless dizzying glimpses of a cowed and defeated city. Smashed windows, thin rivulets of blood, pooling beneath dozens of hanged bodies, desecrated temples and hunched, huddled men and women, who stared at us, wide-eyed, as our militia crashed into the city like a wave of fire. All at once, two soldiers of Ashenmore darted towards us, rifles raised, mouths flapping with alarm. Lazrilus charged at the two men, waving a hammer that Zorin’s followers had given him around his head, slamming into the two men. The Vomoran made short work of the surprised sentries, crushing their skulls like eggs beneath several pounds of his hammer. Wordlessly, two of Zorin’s followers scooped up the fallen rifles, passing the weapons around.
We raced towards the palace. As we charged across the city, I noticed men and women pouring of the desolate houses, some armed, before joining the rear of our mob. Brother Zorin hurled quick orders to these new recruits over his shoulder, never once breaking his stride.
Before long, the opulent palace, that not so long ago had once belonged to the boy-king Tamburlaine, loomed above our heads, throwing its cold shadow over our entire militia. A thick mass of black-clad bodies had gathered in front of the steps leading up to the palace, each one of them armed with a rifle. I halted the advance of Zorin’s followers, sweat oozing down the back of my neck. Our passage was blocked by two-hundred Vomoran warriors, baring their fangs at us. At the rear of this fearsome army, at the very top of the stairs, I saw a further two dozen soldiers of Ashenmore, the red capes of their uniforms flickering in the breeze. At the bottom of the steps, at the front of the mass of foreign soldiers, stood yet another Necromancer, draped in black robes. This Necromancer barked out something to his men and, in unison the Vomoran’s raised their rifles. The Ashenmore soldiers did the same.
“What are you waiting for?” hissed Una. “Use your staff! Fire at them!”
I raised the silver weapon but before I could fire, I heard a voice cry out: “Don’t move!”