As Nakai sprinted through the city things did not look good. The enemy siege weapons had taken their toll and he could see combat taking place on every battlement. Things were only going to get worse. Any men that he passed he sent forward to the gate to help his lieutenant.
The familiar streets that he had known all of his life looked so different now. As the castle came into view despair hit the commander. He could see flames through some of the castle’s windows. It did not look like it had been hit by any projectiles and surely no barbarians could have gotten inside yet.
He increased his pace and hurried towards the mountain fortress. Confusion struck him when he saw the doors were still firmly shut. He bounded up the steps leading to the door and knew that they were locked. He knocked, shouting his name, rank and business and that he must be let in. No answer came.
“Damn it,” he muttered. He could get in by blowing the door down with boom-balls then he could stop the traitor and any other threats within the castle but then the stronghold would be left open to enemies, or he could keep the door shut and stop the barbarians getting in but let the castle fall by some internal threat. When he thought about it the answer seemed obvious.
The doors were reduced to a pile of splinters as he threw a boomball at them. A jagged hole, large enough for Nakai to easily clamber through had been smashed into the once sturdy wood. Inside the castle was deathly silent.
There were no guards in sight; nobody was in view, dead or alive. Nakai did not encounter anyone on his journey to the audience chamber where the Lord should be. He eased open the chamber’s door and cautiously entered.
A sigh of relief passed his lips. Lord Baranox was seated on his throne just as he should be. His personal assistant, Miss Falati stood faithfully by his side.
“My Lord, where are all the guards and why do parts of the castle burn?” asked Nakai, doing all he could to keep his voice calm.
“The guards are down with the civilians. As for the fires, we had some small trouble. It is over now,” Baranox replied. “How goes the battle?”
“Not well. Parts of the city were destroyed by the siege weapons and the barbarians are slowly winning the fights for the battlements.” Nakai paused, thinking how to phrase his next few words. “They also enter by the main entrance to the city but the doors weren’t broken, nor were they opened from down there. They must have been opened by the device in the castle…which would mean there is a traitor among us.”
“Really?” said Lord Baranox in a strange tone. His eyes seemed to have a dull sheen to them.
“My Lord?” said Nakai in an uncertain voice.
A smile formed upon the Lord’s face, not a pleasant one, not even a mocking one, Nakai could not find words to describe it. Before Nakai had time to contemplate the strange behaviour he felt a
sharp pain in his stomach. He looked down and saw a knife embedded into his gut, held by the lord that Nakai had served his entire life.
Lord Baranox removed the knife and let it clatter onto the ground. He sat back in his throne and had a sip of wine. “We were always going to lose this battle. If it wasn’t for me every last citizen of Onlasar would have been butchered. I made a deal with the barbarian, Serka, that if I opened the gates then he would let me and a few others live, that way the blood of Onlasar would live on even after the city was destroyed. Can’t you see my logic?”
Nakai spat on the lord’s shoes and began to get to his feet. He had had many worse wounds than a stab from a dagger. After fighting barbarians for a decade, a knife wound was nothing. He would still live and he could still fight. Lord Baranox seemed to show no fear that Nakai was not dying, rather he seemed amused.
Pain stormed through Nakai’s body. He collapsed to the floor. His veins felt like fire coursed through them. Burning needles stabbed at every inch of his skin and his limbs felt like lead. The traitor had used poison on the blade.
“Soon the world will be enveloped in a wave of darkness and all light will be extinguished. Better to hide light in a cloak of black rather than let it die. Don’t you agree with me, Commander?”
Nakai could not hear anything his traitorous lord was saying. The only thing in the world for him at the moment was pain. His mind felt like it was being forced from his body. A small voice in his head kept telling him that if he stopped resisting the pain would disappear. Nakai managed a bitter laugh. He had been close to death too many times to listen to that voice. This was an occasion where pain was better than the void.
Laughing seemed to give him a small measure of strength. His mind fought its way back into control. He was not about to live through several battles just to die from something he could not fight. Life was often cruel in that kind of way.
“If I’m going to die then I’m going to do it fighting,” growled Nakai. It was the hardest fight in his life just to stand. Every moment felt like his last but against the odds he managed to pull himself to his feet, leaning on his sword like a walking stick, face to face with his former lord.
Lord Baranox could not believe his eyes as he watched the commander struggle to his feet. The sheer willpower needed to accomplish that was phenomenal. Baranox rose from his throne and placed his hand on his sword’s pommel, unsure what to expect.
“How about a duel to settle this argument on the fate of the city,” Nakai managed, turning a cough into a cocky chuckle with difficulty.
Under normal circumstances, Baranox would never have accepted as Nakai far outmatched him, but with the commander barely able to stand, he figured he had a very good chance at victory. “A duel it is then.” His slender sword slid from its elegant sheath with slow purpose.
Both men’s swords clashed together. The weight of the blade seemed almost too much for Nakai. He parried a blow at the last second then lunged at his opponent’s chest. It was easily blocked and countered. He cursed as he narrowly dodged a blow aimed at his head. Sweat ran down his face, blurring his vision. His every movement felt slow as though he was trying to fight under water.
Baranox aimed a blow at Nakai’s head that was sluggishly dodged, then he swung for his chest which was parried. Blow after blow struck Nakai’s blade until it escaped his grip and flew across the room.
The Commander collapsed to the floor, the strain of the fight had been too much for him. Baranox knew he had won. He leered down at the defeated man and placed the tip of his sword against his neck.
“How the mighty fall,” mocked Baranox.
Before he could register what happened next the former lord had Nakai’s boot in his groin. Using his last reserves of energy the commander jumped to his feet, punched Baranox in the nose then grabbed his sword arm, twisting it until it broke, taking his sword in the process.
Instinct took over. Nakai’s body reacted without conscious thought. Baranox was at his mercy yet his arms still swung the sword into his chest. He watched as the former lord’s body crumpled to the floor, blood pooling around him. Nakai himself dropped to the ground as the adrenaline began to drain away and the pain of the poison flooded his senses.
Miss Falati raced over to her Lord’s side with a cry, tears falling from her eyes. She dropped to her knees and embraced his body.
“My Lord. Don’t die! Please don’t leave me,” she sobbed. Baranox was still breathing. He opened his eyes and grasped his assistant’s hand.
An idea struck Nakai. He pulled a small combat knife from a sheath on his arm and crawled over to the woman and Baranox. He roughly pushed her to the side then grabbed hold of the injured man, putting the knife blade against his throat. He heard the woman take a sharp intake of air into her lungs.
“This man deserves death for the crimes he has committed against this great city. I might be willing to spare his life, providing you bring me the antidote to this damn poison.”
Miss Falati considered this for a moment. It looked like she might grab one of the swords and charge at him for hurting her Lord but she knew that Nakai would slit Baranox’s throat at a moment’s notice.
“Fine!” she snapped in defeat. “I will bring you the antidote.”
“If it’s not here in five minutes I will die but I’ll be taking this traitor with me. Do you understand?”
The woman nodded her head and ran out of the chamber. Nakai felt like sleeping despite the immense pain he was in but he knew he had to wait a little while longer. Baranox’s unconscious body was still bleeding, causing the mosaic floor to become slippery.
Each minute seemed an eternity to the commander. Every breath was a trip through the Abyss. He knew he could only stay alive for another minute at max. He tightened his grip on the knife, pushing it
more onto the traitor’s neck, drawing small beads of blood.
Just as Nakai prepared to deliver the deathblow, the door slammed open and hurrying feet clattered across the room. The assistant came into his view holding a vial of purple liquid. She handed it to him then stepped back.
“What have I got to lose,” he muttered to himself as he downed the substance. At first nothing changed. He had an aftertaste of wax but little else.
Pain unlike anything else he had ever felt rushed through his body causing the knife to grind deeper into Baranox’s throat. His assistant screamed at this. Slowly the pain ebbed away leaving only numbness in his limbs, a lack of strength and the pain he would expect from the fighting he had been doing. He dropped the knife onto the floor and rolled away from Baranox.
Miss Falati rushed to her lord’s side and checked his pulse. She sighed a breath of relief when she found it then began to lovingly clean his wounds.
“If we somehow survive this battle you will not be executed, merely exiled. You can go where you wish, just never show your faces here again,” growled Nakai as he stood and limped towards his sword.
He could have laid down and slept where he was the way he felt but there was still an invading army that needed to be crushed. He left the traitors and made his way up to the supply room of the castle. There he grabbed some energy pills and some bandages. Within a few moments he was ready to re-enter the battle.
Previous – Chapter 36. Blood in the Sand.
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