“It was agony having to wait all those years between poisoning Tamburlaine and his half-breed queen, but I had to do whatever I could to avoid suspicion. With Tamburlaine’s boy generating so much resentment amongst the Inner Nobility, I thought that it was only a matter of time before I persuaded Midon to stage a military coup. Then, you came along, dear Lazrilus, and threw the whole kingdom into chaos, leaving it ripe for the taking!”

“You’re mad,” I hissed. “Do you really believe that taking the throne will be the first step in some grand empire? How much of the kingdom do you actually have control over, Lysander? I was able to smash through the walls of Ashuron with a handful of fishermen from Aradion! What about the Onyx Valley? Have the lords that control that region submitted to your rule?”

Lysander stiffed. I had found the chink in his armour. I laughed, hurling scorn at the tyrant’s face. I cared not for my safety. After all that I had endured, I had no intention of quivering like an infant before this aspiring conqueror.

“They haven’t, have they?” I mocked. “Even with the Vomorans helping you, you’ve only taken control of a tiny corner of the kingdom – a single city! Two, I suppose, including your homeland Crelos. How in the name of Ahasathoth can you expect to dominate six whole nations, when you can’t even take control of a kingdom on the edge of destruction!? You’re a madman, Lysander. A fool and a madman. The Calibites would have done better to throw you overboard rather than waste the time of their torturers.”

Lysander rose to his feet, mouth flapping. I tensed, awaiting my inevitable execution. Instead, Lysander merely narrowed his eyes, pointing at me.

“What are you holding?” asked Lysander. I was startled, eyes flickering down to the enchanted staff. I had almost forgotten I’d been holding it. For a moment, an idea burst across my mind – could I perhaps use the staff to slay Lysander before his Vomoran thugs could harm their prisoners? The idea died just as quickly as it had been born. Even if I could strike Lysander, there was still his daughter, skulking at the foot of the throne, to content with.

“It’s a weapon,” I replied. “A magical weapon. It’s how I got past the gates.”

Lysander’s eyes flashed. He snapped his fingers, and at once Laila scurried forwards. She plucked the staff out of my hands and ferried it back to her Father. The treacherous lord twirled the silver wand in his long, pale hands. His grey tongue dabbed his lower lip.

“How does it work?” asked Lysander.

“Any fool could wield it,” I muttered, venomously. “All you have to do is point it at your intended target and will it to fire, imagine that you’re pulling a trigger with your mind – and there you are.”

Lysander grinned, showing all his long, crooked teeth. Wordlessly, the ghostly nobleman raised the staff until it was pointed right at me… but what was this!? I stared, eyes practically popping from my skull. The lord, still grinning, had pointed the wrong end of the staff at me, so that it’s pointed tip, the tip from which the deadly crimson lightning flew, was aimed right at Lysander’s chest.

“Just like this?” whispered Lysander. “You mean to tell me that, just like this, you were able to blast a hole in the ancient wall of Ashuron?”

I hesitated. Lysander frowned.

“Answer my Father!” barked Laila. The trident wielding Vomorans snickered on either side of the tyrant. Another idea, far more ludicrous and daring, poked its way to the front of my mind. I gathered all my strength to suppress smile that had already started to form on my lips and, instead, glared at Lysander.

“You mean to destroy me with my own weapon?” I snarled. “I’ll give you this, you’re less of a coward than the other tyrants I’ve faced. You’re at least willing to get your hands dirty. So, go on then. Finish me. Let your pet Necromancers play with my body all they want. Your squalid little empire will be dead within a year. The only thing you’ll have to show for your work is the ruined grave of a once prosperous kingdom. So, come on then!” I jeered. “Destroy me, Oh Lysander, killer-of-kingdoms! You ghostly old shadow! You treacherous old skeleton! Destroy me!”

Lysander burst into a short cold laugh and tightened his grip on the staff.

“Goodbye, my dear fellow,” said Lysander. Then, without warning, he exploded. There was the briefest flash of crimson light and then, before I could turn my head in anticipation of the eruption, the traitor, his throne, as well as his Vomoran guards disappeared inside a giant orb of crimson fire. Marble and stone buzzed in multitudes of directions, striking several Vomorans on the skulls and throwing them into unconsciousness. Laila had time to let out a wavering squawk of terror before she was flung from the foot of her Father’s throne, one half of her face smoking, crumpling in an unsightly heap behind one of the Vomorans. The silver staff flew through the air, sailing above the mob of Vomorans and noblemen, being clattering, draped in crimson smoke, several paces away from Barnabus’ corpse.

Lazrilus swore. Only Zorin managed to avoid being stunned into immobility by the explosion. Hurling out a shrill, unintelligible prayer to Ahasathoth, the stocky Cleric raised Midon’s silver pistol and fired twice, felling two more Vomoran guards and freeing their prisoners.

The Vomorans babbled in fear looking to one another for support. Behind them, the crimson fire raged on, belching red smoke into the air, where it congregated beneath the ceiling in a bloated, serpentine coil.

One of the smoking Vomorans spied the staff beside the body of Barnabus. Our eyes locked. As one, we hurled ourselves towards the staff, the Vomoran snapping his long, jagged fangs at me, necrotic tongue flopping over his thin, cruel lips. The Vomoran was larger than I, and stronger, but in his desperation to reach the staff he ended up tripping over his own prisoners, almost falling flat on his face. I seized the staff, moments before he could lay his long, black fingernails on it. The Vomoran froze, petrified. I raised the weapon, aiming it’s pointed tip – the correct tip – right between the brute’s lopsided eyes. The Vomoran retreated, hissing.

“Stack back!” I ordered. “Or you’re next. Did you see what happened to Lysander? Stay back-”

“What are you waiting for?” came a strangled, croak of a voice, from behind the Vomoran mob. The hulking guards nervously parted as Laila staggered forward. I recoiled in disgust, my stomach shuddering at the sight of the woman. The one half of her face had been reduced to a ragged, blistering crimson smear. Her lips had been flayed open, her eye dribbling over a raw socket, her cheek had been ravaged and blackened by fire. She stumbled forwards, pointing right at me, her swollen tongue flapping.

About The Author

Rhys Clark

I am an English and Theatre Studies student at the University of Warwick. I particularly enjoy dystopian literature and political satire. My influences as a writer are George Orwell, Christopher Hitchens, Kurt Vonnegut and Harold Pinter.

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