The Fall of Kings - Chapter 3

Fantasy written by IndecentAccident on Saturday 29, August 2020

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Prince Erannus of Alcander carries out a raid in Gryst

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Gryst was hell. The kind of mind that conceived of such a place was incomprehensible to Prince Erannus. The further he trekked into Gryst, the more sweat drenched his body underneath his armour. The air somehow became thinner as he and his forty troops traversed the barren, rocky terrain. What little air there was in the desert felt like a fume, now prevented from entering their lungs by black face coverings. Just less than a mile from the giant stone wall erected around the southern edge of the country, Erannus came to a low valley; a road meandered through a range of rocky hills. Etched into one of these hillsides was the dark opening of a narrow tunnel. His increasingly tired legs stumbled towards it, his troops, clad in red and white armour, held close behind him. Erannus commanded a select group to stand guard outside the entrance to the tunnel, while he led his troops into the darkness, torches in hand to light their way. Just before entering, they drew their swords slowly and quietly. Erannus felt his heartbeat quicken as he led his soldiers inside the tunnel, which sloped down slightly. His quickening pulse brought his body even more heat and discomfort. Sweat now streaked down his forehead. Every step was methodical; slow and soft. He glanced down at the floor, careful not to disturb the stones and rocks which lay there. He could risk no sound. Not just yet. After several minutes of walking through nothing but darkness and rock, the tunnel branched outwards in three directions. Erannus stopped and motioned to his soldiers to follow him to his right. They walked on until Erannus suddenly stopped again, this time in front of a large mound of rocks. He motioned for the troops to stop, before turning to Mardren, his army captain. ‘Help me lift these,’ he whispered as quietly as he could. Erannus, Mardren and a number of their soldiers lifted and moved the heavy rocks with great difficulty. Their removal revealed an iron grate built into the floor. Erannus shot Mardren a knowing glance, and the two men took their places at either end, squatted down and gripped the bars of the grate, slowly lifting it and placing it further along the tunnel, close to the replaced rocks. The grate had been covering a ladder, built into the rock wall beneath. They all made their way down, one by one, and came to the top of a wide flight of stone steps, their way lit by a procession of wall torches. At the bottom of the steps was a platform that overlooked a large cave. Erannus walked to the edge of the platform and saw, at the bottom of the cave wall opposite him, several round dark, translucent cocoons coming out of the wall. As Erannus watched, he saw the cocoons bubble and ripple. Something inside them was moving. Stone steps to the right led the way down. Erannus took a small group down with him, while Mardren and the others remained at the top of the stairs. Once he reached the bottom, Erannus looked up at Mardren and nodded. Mardren turned to the soldiers around him, several of whom threw their torches at the cocoons at the bottom of the opposite wall. The flames on the ground burned away at them, scorching holes into them, which then widened, as if the covering was being peeled off. Several high-pitched squeals came from within them as almost a dozen small insects emerged from each one, scrambling desperately from the fire. The insects ran frantically, their long, thin, black bodies carried by ten small legs on each side. Erannus seized this chance and, with his men following suit, began to chase the creatures down, plunging their swords into the backs of the creatures with enough force to cut them in two. Within minutes, small, broken bodies lay strewn around the cave floor, with the Alcandrian soldiers standing over them, darkened blood dripping from their swords. Mardren joined Erannus on the ground, the whole group now making their way further into the cave. ‘Is it just me or were they bigger than normal?’ Mardren asked quietly, with a concerned look on his face. ‘I thought so too. Something’s not right here,’ Erannus whispered in response. They carried on, their way lit by more wall torches, though Erannus knew these caves so well now that he barely needed them. Much of his twenty-seven years had been spent raiding these lands. A narrow gap in the rock of the cave led them to another wall ahead, with dark tunnels to the right and left. Erannus stepped forward, preparing to give the order again for the cocoons at the bottom of the wall to be destroyed, but as he moved, he saw, to his shock, that they had already been opened. ‘This can’t be,’ Mardren said, bewildered. ‘When was the last raid on these caves?’ Erannus asked. ‘Barely a week ago, my Lord,’ Mardren responded. ‘And they were all destroyed?’ ‘Yes, my Lord,’ Mardren answered. ‘All of them?’ Erannus demanded. ‘I was here myself. I swear, none were left untouched.’ ‘This isn’t right,’ Erannus said, shaking his head and surveying the remains of the cocoons at the bottom of the wall. Holes had indeed been torn into them from the inside. The remains clung to the wall and flopped like excess skin. They had always been quick to regenerate. But not this quick. ‘We’re looking for live ones, boys.’ ‘We don’t know when they broke out, they could be anywhere,’ Mardren said. ‘Then we’ll have to search bit by bit until we find them,’ Erannus answered. The group moved onward, moving through more rocky corridors. Erannus’ eyes scanned everything, moving in every direction, looking for the slightest hint of movement. He gripped both hands firmly around the hilt of his sword. No-one made a sound. Erannus could see no sign of the insects, though he could not shake the feeling of being watched. Despite his search for the observers, he found nothing but rock walls staring back at him. They came to another split in the path ahead of them, one sloping downward on their left, while the other continued forward. Erannus had barely raised a hand to motion his troops to follow him forward, when he was shaken by a loud metallic clanging sound behind him, echoing, reverberating around the cave walls surrounding them. They all quickly turned to see a sword lying on the ground. Erannus broke through the crowd of soldiers to get a better view; there was no mistaking the hilt design. It was one of theirs. Erannus surveyed the ground around the sword. No tracks. No sign of anything following them. It suddenly dawned on Erannus that if the insects hadn’t followed behind, they could only be above. He slowly glanced upwards to see, clinging to the cave wall high above, a long jet-black body with thin, spindly legs piercing the wall. Shiny red eyes locked on to the soldiers before the creature leapt from the wall, letting out an ear-piercing screech as it fell, and landed in the midst of the group. Erannus managed to scramble away desperately before it fell. The pointed ends of its legs impaled soldiers and pinned them to the ground, while its jaws, complete with large black teeth, locked onto the head of another soldier and ripped it off his shoulders. Shouts and yells echoed around the cave. One soldier tried an attack from behind but, before he could swing a sword at its legs, the beast’s long tail, pointed sharp at the very tip, pierced through the armour on the man’s back. With a whip of the tail, the soldier was sent crashing into the cave wall and falling to the ground with a thud. Erannus had no choice but to order a retreat. They had to gather themselves. He called his troops back, but the beast followed with speed and agility. It trampled men into the ground while its tail whipped others away, launching them several feet in the air and colliding into cave walls. Then it eyed Erannus. He watched as the monster’s twenty legs carried it forward suddenly. He barely had time to move out of its way, he swung his sword wildly as he did, the blade slashing clean through the insect’s first leg on the right side of its body. It squealed in pain, but quickly gathered itself, turning around quickly to prepare another rush at the Prince. It was at that moment that it let out another screech of agony and raised its head. An arrow had pierced the back of its neck. Erannus looked to the side of the cave to see Mardren lowering his bow. ‘The shell hasn’t formed yet,’ Mardren bellowed. ‘Get on its back!’ Erannus didn’t need telling twice. While the creature still felt the effects of the wound in the back of its neck, Erannus sprinted to its side and hacked through another of its legs, causing its body to drop, just low enough that Erannus could climb onto its back. The skin felt hard, but Marden was right; there was no shell yet. Erannus positioned himself a foot away from Mardren’s arrow and stuck his sword down into the beast’s back. Before he could pull the blade back out, he felt something slam into his back and knock him to the ground. He landed on his front on the floor. He tried to catch his breath but the blow to his back knocked the air out of him. The tail, he thought. How did I forget about the tail? He turned to see the insect regain its composure. Despite missing three legs, it rushed over to Erannus again, with its thick jaws wide open. It snapped at Erannus, who repositioned himself just in time to reach his hands out to grab its upper jaw and stop it in its tracks. He placed his foot on the lower jaw, desperately trying to stop the insect snapping its mouth shut around him. He struggled with the beast, which pushed against him. Erannus could feel its breath against his face. The rancid smell of death emanating from deep within the creature hit his nose. It was surely only a matter of time before its size and strength defeated him. Just as it seemed all hope was gone, Erannus saw Mardren, sword in hand, run up to the side of the insect’s head and thrust his sword up into the roof of its mouth. A scream hit Erannus in the face momentarily, blood splattered his face as Mardren removed his sword from the beast’s mouth. Finally, it pulled itself away and collapsed to the floor, its legs still scrambling wildly in an attempt to retreat. Before it could move away from them, Mardren raised his sword and plunged into the top of the insect’s head, and after a few twitches of its giant legs, it stopped moving. Erannus raised himself from the ground to see the full extent of the carnage. The beast lay on its front, surrounded by bodies lying in pools of blood all over the floor. Some were headless, some had deep stab wounds through their torsos. The lucky few that survived looked at the scene in shock and disgust. ‘Good Gods,’ Mardren exclaimed, catching his breath. ‘This was just one, and it wasn’t even fully grown. There are more in these caves.’ ‘Then let’s get out of here, and quickly,’ Erannus replied, leading the survivors out of the cave, and back towards the surface of Gryst. Erannus removed his face covering as he reached the wall surrounding the south of Gryst. He heard shouts from Alcandrian soldiers at the top of the wall, orders to open the gates. As he walked towards the iron gate towering above him, every step took more effort than the last. His thighs burned and ached as he walked into one of the many forts surrounding Gryst. ‘My Lord,’ came a call from a fellow soldier inside the fort. ‘Prince Macralor of Vectis is here. He wishes an audience with His Majesty.’ With a puzzled look on his face, and still trying to catch his breath, Erannus instructed the soldier to lead him to Macralor. He led the Prince to a rectangular stone building towards the centre of the fort. As soon as the door opened, Erannus saw Macralor stand up from his seat at a long table. He was surrounded by around a dozen armed guards who, just like Macralor, were fully dressed in the silver armour of Vectis. ‘Your Majesty,’ Macralor bowed. ‘Unusually formal for you, Macralor,’ Erannus replied with a grin. ‘To what do I owe the pleasure?’ ‘I would have thought it obvious, my friend,’ Macralor answered, but at the sight of the inquisitive look on Erannus’ face, he realised he would have to tell him after all. ‘Some of your pets have found their way into Vectis. We found and killed a secaral in one of our villages.’ ‘That’s impossible. We have let none escape.’ At this, Macralor nodded to one of his guards, who picked up the rotting secaral head from the floor and threw it onto the table in front of him. Erannus’ mouth opened in shock. ‘How?’ ‘I was hoping you could tell me. When was the last raid on the secarals?’ ‘Four days ago, and another one two weeks before that. We left none alive.’ ‘Then where did this come from? This wasn’t far from being fully grown, it had to have been away from Gryst for weeks,’ Macralor replied. ‘I do not know. I don’t spend all my time in Gryst, though you know I’d love to,’ Erannus said sarcastically. ‘Might it be time to add more guards to the forts?’ Macralor asked. ‘We have no more to spare. We are overworked as it is,’ Erannus answered. ‘You know we could help, my friend. You need only ask.’ ‘Do you think I haven’t suggested the same thing to my father? He will not have it,’ Erannus said. ‘Why?’ ‘He grows more stubborn in his old age. He will not admit to the problems we face,’ Erannus replied solemnly. ‘And I fear these problems are only getting worse.’ ‘What do you mean?’ Macralor enquired. ‘I have just returned from a raid on budrets in the Hidrite Caves. The last raid was a week ago, they should still have been babies, but whatever power keeps spawning them is growing stronger. We encountered one, almost fully grown. We were lucky to survive. Over a dozen of my men were not so fortunate. Something is wrong here, Macralor. They’re growing faster.’ Macralor listened, hanging on Erannus’ every word. ‘We must investigate. Rest up, and tomorrow we will ride to the caves with you.’ ‘You will ride nowhere; even if I could let you past the gate, your horses will not survive. We have lost several over the past week. It’s getting hotter in there. It’s unbearable. I do not want to imagine what would have happened to us had we stayed any longer.’ ‘You need our help.’ ‘I have my orders,’ Erannus said abruptly. ‘No interference, and trespassers are to be killed.’ He looked Macralor in the eyes as he said this. He wished he didn’t have to relay these orders to an old friend, but Erannus’ loyalty was to his country, and to his father. ‘So be it,’ Macralor responded, walking closer to Erannus. ‘But this concern is no longer yours alone. This is affecting my people now too. You must make Rannus see reason.’ ‘I’ll do what I can,’ Erannus replied. ‘I promise. I’m sorry I could not be of more help. Stay in the fort tonight. I’ll make sure you’re well fed and rested before you return home.’
   

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Comments

    a good chapter . Smile

    I liked the tension created in the beginning as they wandered around in the darkness of the caves.

    The story is developing and will be fun to see where it goes Smile
    Very well written and presented. Excellent imagery.

    The ending is good, it sets up the next chapter nicely.