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Clash for Dawn Official Story - Chapter 5 - Broken Oaths

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  • Clash for Dawn Official Story - Chapter 5 - Broken Oaths

    Isolde stared at the exhausted guardsman, struggling for breath as he leant against the tavern door.
    “Captain Tal…” he gasped, “Captain Tal is in danger!”
    “I know Tal!” said Isolde, “I met him in the dungeons. He was trying to save one of his guardsmen.”
    “Aye,” said Hagen, “A brave warrior. One of our best. He carried Sergeant Fallow back alive and untouched by the curse. He’ll live to fight another day.”

    “Captain Tal has returned to the dungeon realm, sire,” said the guardsman, recovering at last, but still panting heavily, “We caught a spy in a black robe lurking near the barracks. He claimed to have deserted the Dark Lord’s cause and gave us the location of his cell’s hiding place in the dungeons. The Captain went to search for it.”

    “And?” Sir Hagen barked, impatiently. It was clear from the messenger’s manner that something had gone terribly wrong.
    “The moment Captain Tal and the men had opened a portal, the spy cast a spell that knocked out the men and escaped. It seems certain he sent the Captain into danger. What should we do?”

    “If Tal is headed for an ambush, there’s no time to spare,” said Sir Hagen, hand on the hilt of his sword.
    “No,” said Isolde, stepping in front of him and lifting her bow from her shoulder, “I am immune to the curse that makes men into bone soldiers, you say. You are not, Sir Hagen. Stay with your men in Dawnshire. I’ll find Tal and warn him if I reach him in time.”

    “Ha!” laughed Sir Hagen, “Your eagerness is welcome, Isolde, but have you not noticed the ring on my hand?”
    “It’s the same as mine,” said Isolde, examining Sir Hagen’s outstretched hand, “Then you’re…”
    “One of the chosen, just like you,” said Hagen, “Aye. It is my duty and my honour. So… are you ready for battle?”
    “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” said Isolde, touching the cool blue shard of stone in her ring, “And besides, if we are the chosen, this is our fight, like it or not.”
    “Then use the ring to open a portal, Isolde. See it in your mind’s eye and it shall become real.”
    Islolde clenched her fist, gritted her teeth and thought of Tal and his men in the dungeon realm. In an instant a swirling blue vortex appeared, hanging in the air beyond the tavern door.
    “Good,” said Sir Hagen, drawing his broad sword and stepping towards it, “Gods’ speed, Isolde Hart.”
    He leapt into the portal and vanished.

  • #2
    Isolde followed after, emerging from the portal - a little less dizzy than the last time - into the familiar torchlit gloom of the dungeons. Sir Hagen was standing by a cluster of men whose bloodied tunics and dented armour told the story of a fierce battle.

    “Dammit, Pajo, why was I not told of this earlier,” he shouted at a tall, thin-faced soldier, “I need to be able to rely on my lieutenants. Did you not see the danger earlier?”

    “Forgive me, Sire,” said Pajo, “When the first men went missing we thought perhaps they were deserters or uncounted casualties.”

    “And now? What do you think now?” barked Hagen.

    “That the black-robed spy who led us into this trap may have had an accomplice in our ranks,” Pajo admitted ruefully.

    “A spy in our midst, you mean,” Hagen frowned, “Aye, it seems likely. And how many men did we lose before you acted on your suspicions?” he asked, angrily.

    “Three from Dawnshire, two more in the dungeon ambush, Sire. And Captain Tal was cut off from us when we made our escape. He was hidden deep in the caverns beyond here. With luck the Dark Lord’s ghouls will overlook him.”

    “We cannot leave it to luck, Pajo,” said Sir Hagen. He turned towards the portal where Isolde stood and beckoned her forward.

    “I heard enough,” said Isolde, “No more time wasting. Let’s find Tal.”

    Sir Hagen nodded his approval and Pajo barked an order at his men, who drew their weapons and fanned out around Isolde and Sir Hagen as they advanced into the darkness of the dungeon. In the first cavern they found nothing but, as they crossed the shadowy expanse of rough stone floor, they heard sounds coming from beyond the tall bronze gates at the far end. The sounds of clashing swords and grunting, desperate fighting.

    “Forward!” yelled Sir Hagen, lifting his sword, and the men broke into a run, their weapons at the ready.

    They reached the heavy gates and lined up to shoulder them open. Then they charged into the adjoining dungeon, an ornate chamber, littered with treasure chests and lit by the strange glow of icy blue fire bowls, set into the floor.

    Captain Tal stood in the middle of the chamber, locked in deadly combat with three of the Dark Lord’s infernal bone soldiers. His sword flashed in the blue light as he hacked at the skeletal warriors and parried their blades. He was strong, thought Isolde - stronger than his attackers - but he looked tired, and he was badly wounded. His left arm was curled around his stomach, with his hand pressed hard against a deep cut in his side. Hagen and his men ran to his aid, but Isolde knew that her arrows could fly faster than any man could run. She stayed by the gates strung her bow, breathing steadily and staring hard down the arrow’s shaft at the clattering, clashing foes at the heart of the chamber. She waited for Tal to deflect a clumsy lunge from the foremost bone soldier. Then, as the grim warrior regained his balance and began to advance again, she fired. Her arrow took off the skeleton’s head like a scythe cutting corn. His bones collapsed in a heap at once as his unfeeling comrades, quite untouched by his destruction, stepped forward to take his place. Isolde lifted another arrow to her bow and took out a second soldier, cutting through his spine at the waist and sending him flying in two directions. He fell to the ground in two halves but his limbs kept moving, his sword arm flailing uselessly while his legs kicked in the air several feet away. But now Sir Hagen and the men had reached the skirmish. Hagen brought his boot down on the skull of the fallen bone soldier, shattering it completely. The legs stopped kicking at once and the sword fell from the soldier’s hand. Pajo and his men quickly overwhelmed the remaining enemy, slashing at him from every angle at once and scattering his limbs across the flagstones.

    “Tal,” shouted Isolde, racing towards the injured captain. He was still standing, but his eyes stared blankly forward and he was swaying from side to side. Sir Hagen dashed towards his officer too, but before either of them could reach him, Captain Tal dropped to his knees, let out a long groan, then slumped face down on the floor.

    Isolde carefully rolled the unconscious Tal onto his back. The wound on his side was leaking dark red blood. Between the plates of his armour, Isolde could see a stab wound that had pierced his ribcage.

    Sir Hagen tore a strip of cloth from his tunic and pressed it into Tal’s wound to staunch the bleeding. He knelt over his fallen comrade and shook him, gently.

    “He’ll die if we cannot reach a healer,” said Isolde, concerned.

    “More will die if he has knowledge of the spy in our midst and takes it to the grave with him,” said Hagen, gravely, “Tal understands his duty. We will carry him to a healer as soon as possible. But if the spy lingers in this dungeon and Tal knows his face, we must not miss this chance to uncover him.”

    Isolde knew that Sir Hagen was right, but she feared for the wounded captain and wondered, anxiously, whether she would ever have to make such a terrible decision. She hoped not.

    “Your flask!” she called out to one of the guards and he tossed a small leather flask of water. Isolde uncorked it and dripped water onto Tal’s open, blood-smeared lips. His eyes flickered and his breath caught in his chest.

    “Tal? Are you with us, man?” said Hagen, “A spy has betrayed us. Do you know him?”

    Tal’s mouth opened and closed. He croaked uselessly. Isolde held the flask to his lips and let more of the water flow into his throat. He swallowed a few sips and, with great effort, lifted his head to speak again. His voice was small and cracked, but by leaning over him, Hagen and Isolde could hear his whispered words.

    “Beware... the black-robed man…” gasped Tal, “He has magic… It is he who led the ambush against us…”

    “And his associate in the Order?” asked Hagen, “He must have had help from our number.”

    “I know not,” Tal whispered, “But there is something I have learnt. The black-robed man was free with his tongue… when he thought me beaten…”

    “Then tell us!” said Hagen, impatiently.

    “The elves…” said Captain Tal, struggling for breath, “They have been our allies against the Dark Lord, lately… But there are forces among them who preach a different path…”

    “The old Elf King is loved by his people,” said Sir Hagen, “They will not desert his lead.”

    “You’re wrong,” gasped Tal, “The King’s daughter has been taken... She is held by the Dark Lord... With her to leverage his demands, who knows where his loyalties will now lie?”

    Isolde thought on the captain’s words. She knew little of the politics of Midgard, beyond the fact that man and elf had been both friends and enemies at different times. The elves were thought to be selfish and untrustworthy by some, but wise and worthy allies by others. Isolde suspected that - just as with men - the truth lay somewhere in between.

    Sir Hagen, meanwhile, had risen to his feet and was pacing nervously to and fro.

    “No! No, no, no! It cannot be!” he muttered to himself, fingering the hilt of his broadsword.

    Isolde called to him, breaking his train of thought and bringing him back to the present.

    “Sir Hagen,” she begged him, “The captain is gravely wounded. He needs a healer now, or he will surely die.”

    Sir Hagen seemed to stare past her as he waved a gloved hand in the air and said, “Fine. You are one of the chosen. Open a portal and carry him to Dawnshire. I am needed elsewhere.”

    “But,” began Isolde, as Hagen raised his ring, opened a portal of his own and strode boldly into the vortex.

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    • #3
      The portal snapped shut behind him, leaving Isolde in the dungeon with the wounded Tal and three restless guardsmen, who stared into the shadows and spun around jerkily with every slight noise.

      Isolde turned to the captain. The last of the colour had drained from his face.

      “Tal! Tal!” she cried, patting his face. His breath rattled in his throat.

      “Well?” asked one of the guards, “Are we going to get out of here or what? We’re none of us among the chosen, remember. And we’re none too keen on joining the Dark Lord’s cursed army if we fall to the fiends down here.”

      “Show some respect, man. Your captain is dying!” barked Isolde at the startled soldier. “Help me with his body. I’ll summon a portal. You carry him through.”

      “I’m sorry,” said the guard, humbled, as he turned from Isolde to his comrades, “You lads, come with-”

      But his sentence went unfinished. There was a small whooshing sound from the shadows, like arrows taking flight, and all at once, the three guards slumped to the ground, their hands clutching at their necks as their mouths opened and closed in shock, a thin silver throwing blade buried in each of their throats.

      Isolde lay Tal’s head on the stones and jumped to her feet to aid the fallen men, but before she got two steps, they rose to their feet as if pulled up by puppet strings, and she froze to the spot. As Isolde watched, the guardsmen’s flesh dripped off their bodies like hot tallow and puddled on the floor at their feet. Their helmets slipped from their heads along with their hair and the skin of their faces, revealing the bloody bones beneath. They shook their arms and legs, and the muscles and fat slipped off like loose clothing, until three newborn bone soldiers stood before her, grinning horribly and rattling their weapons.

      Three on one, thought Isolde. Oh well, she’d faced those odds before. But wait! Shouldn’t it be three on two? Where was Pajo, Sir Hagen’s lieutenant. He hadn’t passed through the portal with Hagen, but he was nowhere to be seen. Isolde pushed that thought to the side, drawing and firing her bow as fast as she could. The bone soldiers’ advance was slowed by the slippery, gore of their own flesh. They skittered and slid across the flagstones, steadying themselves on their spears, while Isolde took aim and put them down permanently. Only the last of the three got to within an arm’s length of her. It lunged at her chest with its steel-tipped spear but she dodged deftly to the right and kicked its legs out from under it. Then she pinned it to the ground with her boot and, twisting its shield out of its bony grip, she brought the heavy metal disc down hard on the skeleton’s neck, severing its head from its body.

      The sound of voices caught her attention. Pajo? She thought she recognized his nasal tone. But who was with him? As quietly as she could, she skirted the room to the door of a low ceilinged alcove cut into the rocky walls. Two figures stood in the shadows; one the traitorous lieutenant Pajo, the other the black-robed spy who had orchestrated Tal’s ambush.

      “I did as you asked,” said Lieutenant Pajo to the mysterious stranger, “I cannot be held responsible,”

      “Oh but you can,” said the figure in the black robe, his voice deeper than Pajo’s and more threatening in its tone, “Our master will not be pleased by your broken pledge.”

      “But I delivered Tal to you,” Pajo pleaded with the stranger in the shadows, “How could I know that Sir Hagen would come?”

      “And with another of his wretched chosen ones too,” hissed the stranger, “A fine mess you made for us. It’s a wonder we escaped with our lives.”

      “You’re not home yet,” said Isolde, stepping around the wall to reveal herself, her bow pointed straight at the lieutenant’s chest.

      “You treacherous worm, Pajo,” she spat, “Captain Tal is dead and a dozen of your own men, too. Come with me and let Sir Hagen decide your fate, or die in this dungeon. It’s much the same to me.”

      “Will you offer me the same choice, archer?” hissed the black-robed man at Pajo’s side, his hand diving beneath his flowing cloak, “I choose to end this here!”

      His arm flicked out and silver flashed in Isolde’s eye as the black-robed man’s dagger flew at her. She twisted and ducked, but the blade was too fast. It caught her neck as she tried in vain to avoid it, and hot blood spurted from the wound. She dropped her bow and drew her dagger with her right hand while she held her left over the cut in her neck. Blood squirted between her fingers and she felt her head become light. She fell to her knees as her eyesight began to blur and the fuzzy figure of Lieutenant Pajo pushed past her to make his escape.

      “Run, Pajo, run!” the black-robed figure called after him, “Our master will catch up with you sooner or later.”

      The stranger walked slowly over to where Isolde knelt and stood over her like a priest giving a blessing to a kneeling worshipper.

      “Should I offer you a choice, I wonder?” said the deep voiced stranger, “Perhaps I should… Would you prefer to bleed out slowly, or shall I put an end to your suffering?”

      A rage grew inside Isolde. She gripped her dagger hard, but she was too weak even to raise her right arm. The black-robed man laughed and paced up and down in front of her.

      “Ha! Chosen one. Mighty warrior. So Gelderrin’s magic runs in your veins, does it? A power of good that has done you! Useless weakling. I cut you down with flick of my wrist!”

      Isolde’s head swam. It was taking every ounce of her will to stay up on her knees. Was her story really over so soon, she wondered? What of her father’s faith in her? And Sir Hagen’s? What of her destiny? She mustered all of her remaining strength and slowly lifted her hunting knife, waving it pathetically at the stranger who laughed all the harder. From beneath his cloak, he drew his own blade, a long, curved dagger with a ruby-studded handle.

      “Enough of this entertainment,” said the stranger, “Now you will meet Gelderrin face to face, chosen one... in the next world!”

      He gripped the dagger in both hands and raised them high above his head. Isolde stared up at him, too weak to move, with anger and defiance in her eyes. She waited for the blade to pierce her flesh, and for the darkness that would follow.

      But then, there was a flash of brilliant white light and Isolde was hurled backwards through the air, to land with a thud on the cold stone floor. She lifted her head, woozily, to see the black-robed spy dancing in combat with a bearded old man, clothed in golden robes and armed with a staff that buzzed with magical energy.

      The spy was fast, but every move he made was blocked and turned against him by the sprightly old man, whose speed and stamina seemed quite at odds with his age.

      “Curse you, Seer!” cried the black-robed man, hurling a small vial at the ground.

      A cloud of sulphurous smoke rose up between the spy and his aged attacker. Isolde watched as the spy dived through the cover of thick fumes and ran straight at the rocky wall of the chamber. Then he simply disappeared. His cloak fell in a crumpled heap at the foot of the wall, quite empty. It was as if the spy had run straight through the solid stone wall.

      The bearded man strode over to Isolde and reached down to lift her off the ground. She was still bleeding heavily, clutching the deep wound in her neck, and he had to take all of her weight to get her standing.

      “I am a Seer of the Angeli,” chosen one, “The danger here has passed. Now we must find help for you.”

      He waved his staff and a new portal opened in the air before them. Golden light poured out of it, bathing Isolde in its glow. She felt safe and warm and small in the Seer’s arms. Or perhaps, she thought as she passed out, this was what dying felt like...

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