THE LOST PRINCE: PART V – THE PROTECTOR OF ASHENMORE (PT. 2)
I turned in the direction of the speaker. From one of the great houses looming to my right, I saw multitudes of long rifles protruding from the shattered windows, followed by the tell-tale red glint of the Ashenmore uniform. I whipped my head in the opposite direction and, sure enough, I saw many more rifles poking downwards from the windows of the houses rising to my left too. I lowered my staff. It no longer mattered that I could blast half of the Vomoran mob asunder for the Ashenmore army had flanked us, and would be able to cut us down in a matter of moments. The Necromancer strode forward, beaming. He had us trapped and he knew it.
“Well, Demetrius,” muttered Zorin. “I have to admit, you got us further than I expected.”
“Oh,” I grinned, tears leaping to my eyes. “So, you thought I wouldn’t even get past the gates, is that it?”
“Not really, no,” laughed Zorin. “Magic’s one thing, but a tiny band of rebels capturing the kingdom’s capital?” Zorin shook his head, still laughing. “That would have taken a miracle.”
“Prepare to fire!” barked the Necromancer, grinning. He was speaking in the tongue of Ashenmore, just to make the defeat of Zorin’s followers as obvious as possible. “Fire in three, two…”
“Now!” howled another voice, from the top of the stairs. The two dozen Ashenmore soldiers suddenly shifted the direction that their rifles were pointing, aiming them right into the Vomoran horde, and opened fire. I winced as the joint din of the rifles’ cracks and the dying screams of the Vomoran warriors struck me like a physical blow. The Necromancer wheeled around in alarm, his jaw dropping. More shots rang out, and smoke belched from the shattered windows, yet Zorin’s militia remained unscathed – the soldiers were firing at the Vomorans. The enemy Necromancer bellowed in fury but, before he could organise his troops into retaliation, a stray bullet tore its way through the villain’s neck. The Necromancer collapsed, black blood spurting from his neck like an odious fountain.
“They’re on our side,” I whispered, too stunned to really believe it.
“Well!” yelled Zorin. “Let’s not just stand here like lame dogs. Onwards, brothers and sisters, ONWARDS!”
We charged again, making short work of the Vomoran horde. Lazrilus flitted from victim to victim, his hammer swinging, his razor-sharp teeth flashing with murderous glee. Zorin felled Vomoran after Vomoran with Midon’s silver pistol. One hulking Vomoran stormed towards me, and staggering backwards I raised my staff, pointing its silver tip right at the brute’s chin. The crimson light shot across the air and the Vomoran crumpled, his skin crackling with red light, quite dead.
Once the last of the Vomorans had been polished off, the leader of the Ashenmore sentries strode towards me breathing deeply, face streaked with sweat. I finally recognised as Barnabus – the old veteran that had once served under Baron Midon!
“Come,” snapped the old soldier. “We haven’t much time. Once they realise what’s happened, the Vomorans will be after us – there’s a huge group of them, fighting by the eastern gate. I don’t suppose you have anything to do with the giant snake that’s trying to climb our wall?”
“I may,” I replied. “Where can we find Lysander?”
“He’ll be in the throne room,” said Barnabus. “That bloodless creature has taken up permanent residence there – he more or less lets his daughter and the Vomoran commanders run the city as they wish.”
“Couldn’t you have stopped them?” I asked, as, together, Zorin’s militia and Barnabus’ soldiers began to march up the steps, striding over the mounds of Vomoran bodies. Barnabus shook his head.
“Not without knowing how much support we had for an uprising,” sighed the old soldier. “With the Vomoran’s and Lysander’s personal guard working together, the regular army is hopelessly outnumbered. The best we could do with sit and wait for somebody else, bolder than we, to make the first step.” Barnabus sniffed, not quite able to meet my gaze. “I’m a soldier, sir,” said the old man. “Not a revolutionary.”
Inside the palace we met surprisingly little resistance. A small handful of Vomoran invaders made attempted one or two foolish attacks, only to be torn to pieces by a barrage of rifle fire. My determination grew the deeper that our little militia plunged into the heart of the palace. With the power of the ancient staff, Barnabus’ soldiers, Zorin’s followers, Una’s magic and additional following of almost a score of regular citizens of Ashenmore, our victory felt assured.
This determination faded, however, once we arrived at the two heavy wooden doors that formed the entrance to the throne room. In front of these doors stood a small, slender woman wearing brown trousers, an unflattering, black shirt, her narrow shoulders draped in a flowing, purple cape. Her hands were hidden behind dark brown gloves and the woman’s black hair had been cut short, just above her shoulders.
“It’s Laila!” cried Barnabus. “Lysander’s daughter! What’s she doing, just standing there?”
Laila smirked and offered us a brief bow, her eyes glittering with a cruel, mirthful light. A thin sword dangled at her waist.
“Good afternoon, my dear usurpers,” hissed Laila. “My Father would be more than happy to speak with you, although, I would strongly advise that you lower your weapons. The new Master of Ashenmore doesn’t take too kindly to shows of force…”
Then, without waiting for a reply, Laila turned on her heels and, with one blow of her hands, hurled open the great doors. We lunged forward, Zorin raising Midon’s pistol, as I clenched the staff tight enough to turn my knuckles white. I didn’t like how calm Laila had appeared, when greeting us. Even if Lysander and his daughter were merely arrogant, surely, after realising that our militia had managed to overcome most of his defences thus far, should have given them some cause of alarm.
As we entered the throne room, I was struck by how much it had changed since the reign of Tamburlaine III. Whereas the throne room under that boy-king had been a desolate, barren place, now, it was crammed with people. At the sides of the room, squashed in-between towering, marble pillars, stood the remnants of Midon’s old Council, glaring up at us from the tops of their cowed, bowed heads. In the centre of the room had gathered a large horde of Vomoran Warriors, with rifles slung over their shoulders, holding long, serrated knives to the throats of about a dozen children and women, who had been forced to their knees before us. At the very back of the throne room on a raised platform, lounging on the throne, sat Lysander. He was flanked on either side by several Vomoran warriors, two standing to attention on either side on his arms, each one of them holding a long, dark black tridents. Laila strode past the cowering prisoners, almost skipping as she joined her Father, her long, purple cloak flowing behind her. It was only then that I observed how the scarlet curtains that had once adorned the windows to the throne room had been torn down and replaced by bloated purple curtains.