Home > Destiny of the Wulf, General > DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter Five.

DESTINY OF THE WULF: Chapter Five.

THE BATTLE

The scene of devastation outside the temple grounds left a lump in the throat, and rent the hearts of onlookers. The sheer destruction of the once beautiful grounds brought a tear to many an eye and fuelled anger in others.

Amidst campfires, thousands of goblins, overshadowed by four giants, prepared for battle. Ancient trees had been uprooted and honed into clubs by the handful of giants. They drove huge iron spikes into the ends and tested the lethality of each.

On the front line, goblin chiefs and shaman leaders issued orders to the rabble before them, their orb staffs glowing multitudes of colours. They were a deadly force, yet disorganised, and that was often their downfall. The old adage: ‘Too many cooks…’ applied to their military leadership, but thousands had amassed, alongside several mountain trolls and the giants, and this was an unusual occurrence.

The invaders had formed a huge semicircle in front of the temple gates, and the roar of the horde deafened all in its vicinity. Several crude animal horns added to the noise, and psyched the goblin army for war.

On the temple side of the gates, several battlemages stood deep in concentration, keeping an enchantment upon the gates, which was at present the only thing that kept the attackers at bay. These few men and women after years of study and discipline provided the primary protection for the order.

The Archmage and Curator, alongside a dozen permitted mages, were the only others capable of tapping into the elemental forces in this manner. Their actions drained the mind and body and even though the effects were often only temporary, these skills were used only in times of dire need, and in this instance, to allow the gathered troops to make ready.

A dozen goblins lay dead at the foot of the huge gates. Every so often a chieftain would send an unwilling volunteer to approach them. As the volunteer grasped its bars, a purple flash emitted from the metal. The goblin would spasm, endure heart failure, and froth at the mouth, to then drop dead.

Curator Menin had changed her clothing; she looked magnificent in steel and white. A red sash ran left to right across her chest, emblazoned with the temple’s emblem. She wore the Rose of Cerathil proudly upon her chest and a sword dangled at her side. Strapped to her left arm was a shaped steel shield with sharpened edges. She limped from her study onto a balcony that overlooked the battlefield. Her closest aides and generals followed and took position beside her. To their left stood a grand stone table with a rough map of the area, and carved figures represented the combatants below.

Menin surveyed her troops. ‘Lieutenant General Torith, I think the left flank is weak.’

Torith looked up from his map, scanned his men and nodded with a grunt. He called a runner to him. ‘Send word to Captain Dalbo to move his men to the vineyard.’

The runner saluted and took off at full pelt. Torith turned to Menin. ‘My apologies, it will not happen again.’ He bowed respectfully.

‘See that it does not,’ said General Jericho tersely.

Torith returned to his map and altered his figurines to match his order.

‘He’s not himself of late,’ said Jericho quietly.

‘His wife nearly lost their first child during his birth. I think we can go easy on him,’ replied Menin. ‘Would you find and fetch Coinin for me?’

‘You want me to leave, now? I could send one of my men.’

‘No, I don’t trust anyone else with his safety.’

‘Very well, just don’t start without me.’ Jericho turned and left the balcony.

Inside the temple, Coinin did a double take as Marrok exited the armoury. He was clad head to toe in the finest of plate armour, and over this he wore a white cloak that bore the emblem of Soliath Wulf. His head was covered by a red cloth wound tightly around it, and over this sat a domed steel helmet. He carried a long spear and a serrated sword in his hands, and he looked very pleased with himself. He clanked as he walked, but did not care; the armour was so fine that he lost almost no ability to move.

‘That, young sir, is armour cast in the very best elfen forges; it has superior strength and can withstand almost any spear or arrow. Nevertheless, be warned, do not let its strength go to your head. If one of those giants hits you with one of their clubs, it will buckle like any other armour,’ Rendal warned.

Marrok nodded that he understood and watched Coinin as he donned his own armour. His was lighter, and consisted mostly of chain mail.

‘I am sorry we did not have full armour in your size. Yet rest easy, the mail is the finest the elfs have to offer, and will give you almost the same protection.’ Rendal clasped Coinin’s shoulder with a huge hand that almost buckled his knees.

‘Thank you, Rendal.’ Coinin coughed nervously.

‘This is your first time in battle, I think.’

Coinin nodded, a worried look on his face.

Rendal smiled reassuringly. ‘Stick with me and you’ll be fine.’

‘That you will, brother; you’ve got me.’ Marrok beamed, and tested the feel of his sword with a swish through the air.

‘Actually,’ a voice said behind them, ‘Coinin’s presence is required by Curator Menin.’

They turned to see General Jericho, who looked proud and serious. He was dressed in gold trimmed armour.

‘Coinin, please accompany me immediately.’

‘But what about Marrok?’ Coinin asked, and took a quick glance at his brother.

‘I think you and I both know Marrok has waited for such a day for a long time. He will be in his element.’

‘I don’t know,’ Coinin began.

‘Rendal will have his back, will you not, old friend?’ Jericho said.

‘He could not be in safer hands.’ Rendal held his shovel-sized hands in the air and uttered a guffaw.

Marrok finished his swordplay and joined the group. ‘This is an excellent weapon, perfectly balanced. I’d rather preserve father’s sword. May I keep this?’

Jericho nodded. ‘Yes, you can keep the sword. You see, Coinin, he is fine.’

Coinin conceded defeat and clasped his brother’s arm. ‘Marrok, please be careful.’

Marrok merely grunted a response, happy with his new prize.

‘Show me the way, General.’

Jericho nodded to Rendal, turned and swished his way down a long white corridor, his cloak flapping as he went. Coinin had a job to keep up with the tall man and did so at a trot.

‘Why do you think Curator Menin wants to see me?’

‘She believes you are important to the order, and so until you are proven not to be, you must be,’ Jericho replied.

They wound their way through corridor after corridor, ascended a grand marble staircase, and finally arrived outside the Curator’s study. At each side of the large wooden door, a guard stood ready. They saluted at Jericho’s presence, but lowered their spears as Coinin approached.

‘Easy, gentlemen, Coinin is here by Menin’s request,’ Jericho announced.

‘Very well, go on in, she is on the balcony,’ said the guard to the right of the door.

Jericho pushed open the door and ushered Coinin inside and then closed it securely behind them. More guards and nods of recognition greeted them. The room, however, had changed somewhat. The usual bookshelves were pushed to the side of the room and large flaxen dust covers were placed over the shelves that held Menin’s personal library. In the centre of the room, several dwarves huddled together around Menin’s desk to examine their battle options.

‘We have more reinforcements arriving soon,’ Coinin overheard a dwarf say.

‘Aye, but if she don’t use us there’s no point them coming,’ said another.

Jericho whisked Coinin through the hubbub and out into the bright sunshine of the balcony. Menin’s generals looked grave; things didn’t appear to be going too well judging by their expressions. Jericho stepped over to Menin and lightly touched her shoulder, and then whispered in her ear. She nodded and thanked him, and he disappeared into the crowd of onlookers on the balcony. Curator Menin stepped forward, gave a huge smile and grasped Coinin by the hand.

‘Welcome, Coinin. I am glad you could make it. This will prove to be a day of loss for all assembled. Although, I feel, we have the advantage.’ She pointed at him. ‘You.’

‘Curator? I–’ Coinin began.

‘Call me Laliala.’

‘Laliala, then.’ Coinin had begun to feel left out of some big secret. ‘Why does everyone say I’m important? I don’t feel important.’

‘You are important because you and your brother are the last descendants of Soliath Wulf,’ Menin replied.

‘Why is that important?’

‘Coinin, I promise I will explain all, but right now I have a battle to win. Please join the others and observe how a battle is fought and won.’ Menin’s tone was more order than request, and this left Coinin with little choice but to do as she asked. He knew that there were more pressing matters to attend to, and his questions would be answered eventually, but it did intrigue if not infuriate.

A great crash shook the temple, and spectators looked on in horror as three of the largest giants smashed their way into the compound. A sizeable hole had appeared in the wall that surrounded the gardens, and a giant stepped though the gap and over the rubble.

He immediately began to swing his club at any unfortunate that stood in his way. Elfen archers took aim upon the orders of their captain, and let loose, only to watch their missiles bounce harmlessly off the tough leathery hide of the invader. A line of crimson-cloaked battlemages, the elite, cast a variety of spells at the giant, all to no avail. Menin yelled above the din. ‘Trip him! Fell him!’

A squad of burly soldiers stepped forward and enticed the giant to follow them. They threw rocks and hurled abuse at the hulking mass. The beast took the bait and tried to crush them underfoot. A small group of men lay in wait. They had tied a thick rope to a sturdy tree at the side of the central garden pathway, and pulled it taut across the path, creating a tripwire.

The giant roared in triumph as he trod on a hapless warrior and side-swiped a second with his lethal club. This distraction, however, was his downfall. He had failed to notice the rope across his path. His ankle caught the obstruction and he tripped. He crashed to the ground and sent a dust cloud into the air that choked all in the vicinity. His forehead took the brunt of the fall and bled heavily.

The defenders wasted no time. Four of the largest men leapt onto the giant’s shoulders and pulled their way up the torso, until they were at the head. They drew swords and struck, and pierced the skull at its base. The defeated giant let out a roar of pain and clambered onto his knees. He tried to knock his attackers from their precarious perches, but failed. He was already losing his ability to coordinate his actions.

The troops, balanced on his skull, struck repeatedly until finally the giant’s eyes glazed over and he fell dead with a second deafening thud.

A great cheer erupted in the compound at the giant’s defeat, but was soon stifled as a mass of ugly green bodies swarmed at them from the newly created entry point. Elfen archers did their best to down many of the enemy, but the bodies were so tightly packed together that hundreds made it into the compound to meet lines of battlemages.

From his vantage point, Coinin could hear the roar of battle and witness steel as it struck flesh and bone. Arrows whistled through the air, aimed at the enemy below, and the whoosh and crack of spells intermingled with yells and roars, but all the time his concern was for Marrok. He frantically searched the grounds for him, but could not see him. He closed his eyes and concentrated, and summoned all his strength to locate his brother.

He pushed the sounds of battle far back from his consciousness, and allowed only light to enter his mind, then focused on Marrok’s presence and sought his brother’s aura. He felt light and dizzy, as he seemed to leave his physical being and float above the battleground.

As he traversed the compound in his disembodied way, the battle flashed before him in a myriad of colours that swirled so intensely that they took on a tangible texture of their own, as they swished and curled around him like silken ribbons. The colours felt so tactile that Coinin was able to touch the strands, but to his dismay they lasted mere moments and vanished into the air the moment he touched them.

He paused momentarily to let a giant pass by. He did not know why he did that; the giant could neither see, nor touch him. He was sickened to see the giant pick up a horse with his bare hands. It screamed in terror as the giant proceeded to tear it in two and toss the pieces aside with the shocked rider still ensconced in her saddle.

The battle had become bloodier. Bodies lay everywhere. Men, women and goblins pleaded for help as they slowly bled to death from their wounds. The fortunate were already dead. For the moment it looked like the giants would win the battle.

Coinin paused next as he witnessed a half-naked soldier held aloft by a group of goblins, who fastened a noose around his neck and dangled him three feet from the ground. Several soldiers were beaten back as they attempted a rescue. To show mercy, an archer stepped forward, drew back his arrow, and fired. The arrow hit true, and pierced the soft flesh of the heart and ended the soldier’s misery.

He moved on in his search, and the colours became more vivid as he sought out his prize. He stopped suddenly, almost as if he had hit a brick wall.

He faced the pitted and hairy back of a giant, the grime visible within his deep pockmarks and scars. Across one shoulder the giant wore a thick leather strap, which had loops of leather attached at regular intervals. The giant turned slowly, and Coinin could hear it now, the screams of terrified men. Worse, he could see them, trapped in the giant’s leather strap, held tight by loops of leather. A couple of the prisoners appeared to have perished, crushed to death from the tightness of the restraints.

What would this giant do with his prisoners, and where was Marrok? Why had he not found him yet? The giant turned to face him, and then he saw what he had missed. There, firmly attached to the giant’s strap, was Marrok; his aura blazed a deep shade of blue.

Coinin’s heart sank. He had to do something, he could not let his brother die like this. Then it happened without warning, he felt as if he had been cleaved down the middle and his head seared in pain. In the blink of an eye he was elsewhere and nowhere at the same time.

The place, if it was a place, was a sheer brilliant white and made him squint. There were no forms or shapes that could be seen, just a white nothingness. Coinin felt frightened that his magic had somehow backfired. Was he dead and in the heavens having failed to save his brother? He had debated this when a somehow familiar and yet unfamiliar voice rent the air.

‘Coinin, I know what you are thinking, that you must be dead, correct?’ the voice boomed.

Coinin gulped, unsure if he should answer. ‘Well, I had considered it, yes,’ he replied eventually.

The voice laughed heartily. ‘Let me reassure you that you are not dead, but you are in a place between, well, let’s say between everything. I have brought you here as I have heard your cry of anguish, and I have a task for you to perform.’

‘My only task at the moment is to save my brother from a giant’s cooking pot,’ said Coinin.

‘Then we have the same aim.’

‘Who are you? How can I trust what you say?’

‘If you do not, Marrok will die,’ said the voice solemnly.

‘What is it that I must I do?’

‘I need you to be brave and do the impossible. It may be beyond your abilities right now but you have to at least try,’ said the voice. ‘Let me show you.’

A series of images flashed before him that seemed to make no sense until he felt what he thought was a white-hot poker that had been thrust into the back of his skull. He screamed at the pain and it sobered his mind. Then everything went black followed by a pinhole of light that appeared in the distance of his mind’s eye. The light grew steadily larger, and then he was falling, falling fast into a tunnel of light.

Moments later, he was back in his own body and the images made sense. He shook off the disorientation he felt and steeled himself for the task ahead. He ran to Menin and grabbed her by the arm.

‘Coinin, what is it?’ Menin asked, her attention focused on the battle.

‘He has Marrok, that giant out there.’ Coinin pointed at the lumbering giant who scooped up yet another victim and sandwiched her upside down into a leather loop.

Menin did not look at Coinin or the giant. ‘I am sorry, Coinin, there is nothing that I can do for him. He knew the risks when he agreed to help. We are nearly swamped as it is, and I cannot spare anyone to rescue him.’

Coinin saw red. He again grabbed Menin, but this time more roughly and swung her to face him. He looked her deep in the eyes. ‘I am not asking, I am telling,’ he said, and sounded more courageous than he felt. ‘I am important to you, so the way I see it, assist me or I do not help you.’

Menin’s eyes widened in horror and she shoved him aside just as a boulder the size of a horse slammed into the balcony where Coinin had stood moments earlier.

Chunks of marble balustrade showered horrified onlookers, and a dwarf was thrown from the balcony to the cold floor below. A second boulder side-swiped Menin as she attempted to save Coinin from certain death. Blood seeped from a wound to her shoulder, but she shrugged it off and stormed over to Coinin, who shook dust and debris from his hair. She roughly dragged him to his feet.

‘You, sir, are not so important that I should not throw you to the goblins myself,’ she snarled.

Coinin angrily tried to shrug off Menin’s tight grip, but failed, and stood as a rag doll while she shook him. He dropped his head and sighed resignedly.

‘I know how to end the battle,’ he said almost inaudibly.

‘Oh, you know more than General Jericho or I, do you?’ Menin fired back.

Coinin thought for a moment. Would she believe him or would he be carted off in irons?

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I have the ability to search out Marrok with my mind, and while I was doing so I had a vision. I was in a completely white space and a voice spoke to me. I was shown how to save my brother and end this battle.’ He looked down, embarrassed. Even he thought he sounded crazy.

Menin gently raised his chin with her bloodied hand, and looked him deep in the eyes. ‘I believe you. I have also been summoned to this place and told many things that have come to fruition. What is it that we are to do to end this?’

Menin had assembled what remained of her elite battlemages in a semicircle that faced Coinin. He in turn faced the enemy, feeling small and vulnerable, just feet from the fierce battle. Archers kept the goblin advance at bay. The goblins could smell fresh meat, and were tenacious in their desire to taste it.

Coinin signalled he was ready and closed his eyes as the battlemages behind him began to chant. They chanted faster and faster, and he began to feel stronger and more confident as a surge of power built within him. He had told Menin how he must defeat the enemy and she had formulated a plan. The idea had been to focus the combined energy of the battlemages into a single point, in this case a giant a hundred yards away that wreaked havoc on the battlefield.

The chants grew stronger and Coinin began to shake uncontrollably as he absorbed increasingly more energy. He levitated, and his back arched, his arms outstretched and his palms facing upwards. His head began to swim and he began to lose his concentration. Tears streamed down his face as his efforts began to overwhelm him.

Visible streams of light energy snaked their way from the battlemages towards Coinin. He absorbed each in turn and this made him give out the same light energy as he drew its power into him.

‘Focus, Coinin,’ a distant voice in his mind called. ‘You can do this.’

The voice was warm and gave him an instant boost in confidence. He redoubled his focus, and after a few more moments, he was ready.

He concentrated his thoughts on the giant’s, and pictured himself as the giant, hulking, clumsy, and oafish. He imagined what he had eaten for breakfast, what his likes and dislikes were, and then surprisingly quickly, he found himself in the mind of the giant. With a swoop that sent his heart into the roof of his mouth, he was there, and stared out of the giant’s eyes feeling very tall and aggressive. The giant had temporarily vacated, and found himself to be much smaller in stature and now occupied Coinin’s body. Two soldiers caught the mind-swapped body of Coinin as he dropped from his levitation the moment they had switched consciousnesses. They proceeded to restrain him, easier now that he was no longer a thirty-foot-tall giant.

Coinin, now extremely large and powerful, turned to Menin and clumsily signalled he was all right. He reached behind him and unclasped the large leather strap that ran across his shoulder and held the giant’s prisoners. He gently laid the strap on the ground, and signalled for a group of soldiers to come forward and release the captives. Satisfied, he reached down and picked up a tree-sized club, through which vicious-looking spikes exited at varied angles, and tested its weight.

This is going to be easy, Coinin thought.

Inside the temple, Draken had not moved from the Great Hall. He contented himself with staring out of a window that overlooked the battle as he waited for the moment to strike. Sounds of war filtered into the domed hall, and a crash sounded behind him. A large boulder had penetrated the dome and had smashed rows of pews as it rolled to a stop against the wooden plinth. Draken’s guard lay bleeding on the ground beside him, a chunk of debris in Draken’s hand the only sign of foul play. Tossing the rock away he took his cue and abruptly left the hall.

He swept along a darkened corridor and bypassed guards who paid him no heed. He reached the grand hallway that held a marble staircase and wound its way up three flights. He took the steps two at a time, and stepped aside only to allow stretcher-bearers to evacuate the wounded to safety.

The boulders aimed at the temple seemed to have had the desired effect. How effective the damage and distraction would be, Draken could only guess, but he hoped that it would allow him to go unnoticed as he slipped into Curator Menin’s study.

He deliberately avoided eye contact as he stepped over the rubble that filled the corridor. He need not have worried about discovery; no one so far had paid him the slightest attention.

He stopped momentarily and surveyed the damage to Menin’s office. Not a lot that could be recognised remained. Bookshelves were broken and scattered around the room, while books lay torn and shredded alongside equally damaged scrolls. The giants had worked overtime in their attempt to destroy Menin and her generals. Draken was not interested in whether Menin had survived or not. He was after one thing: the Rose of Cerathil.

He would deliver the small and unassuming piece of jewellery to his co-conspirator who thought it would give him more power than any man could or should possess. This would free Draken to search out his own heart’s desire. He had only to find it on pain of death, and he knew from experience that it would be worn around her neck.

He clambered over the remains of the doorway to the balcony and peeked around it. Menin was there, in bad shape. She had been struck by falling debris during a second giant attack, and now she was laid face down on the floor.

Draken took only moments to act. This was his chance. He quickly stepped over to Menin and wrenched the Stone of Cerathil from around her neck. Her head bounced off the floor as the chain snapped.

A big smile spread across his face as he stood and checked about him for witnesses, and then deposited the precious stone in his pack. He removed a replica of the Rose of Cerathil from his clothes and fastened this around Menin’s neck. He took a few steps back towards the study, and then returned to her, and aimed a vicious kick to the side of her head.

‘That is for ruining my life,’ he snarled.

Coinin was quite used to the giant’s movements by this time, although he did stumble somewhat if he failed to concentrate properly. He still wielded his club clumsily at all and sundry and even endangered his own side. On the bright side, goblins in his vicinity ran for safety, terrified, realising that they were now at the sharp end of his weapon.

Two giants headed his way. They towered thirty-eight feet, which was considerably taller than he, and he realised he had not thought this out thoroughly. No mysterious voice told him how to fight two giants of superior strength and size.

The first of the giants thundered up to him and shoved him hard in the chest. ‘Wha’ you do?’

Coinin pushed the giant in return. ‘They not friends,’ Coinin boomed.

The larger giant cocked his head and tried to comprehend what Coinin had said. ‘Wha’ you mean?’

Coinin knew he had to carefully word his response. He needed all the help he could get if he and Menin were to defeat the goblin army.

Then the answer came like a godsend. A score of goblin warriors that barely reached above his ankle attacked his legs with swords and axes. They had already inflicted quite a significant amount of damage to his newly acquired legs without his knowledge. This mind exchange obviously did not involve full sensory input, and that was dangerous. Coinin pointed to the goblins.

‘Bad goblins,’ Coinin rumbled.

Coinin could almost see the cogs turn as the other giant tried hard to comprehend the message. Then a lamp seemed to light behind the dull grey eyes of his foe. He held out an arm for Coinin to grasp.

‘Kill goblin,’ the giant beamed.

Coinin could have leapt for joy. He clasped the arm of his newly found ally, grateful that the giant had not seen him attack the goblins first.

The second giant lumbered over and gave a toothy grin.

‘Kill goblin fun,’ he laughed as he picked up two of the creatures that sliced at Coinin’s legs.

He smashed their heads together, and then moved his hands apart to find them covered in green sticky liquid. He looked perplexed. A moment later realisation hit and he guffawed, threw the bodies aside, and targeted his next victims.

Coinin, with the aid of his two new companions, herded a score of goblins to the only natural safe haven in the belly of the dormant volcano.

A deep cave was set into the high mountainous walls, and afforded temporary protection to those within, but also hampered any attempt at escape.

Coinin told his two giant friends to stand guard outside the cave entrance, and then wandered out of sight of the two as nonchalantly as he could, in search of Menin. As he left, the pair began to play a game he had not seen before. They balanced a stone on the end of their noses, the idea being to not let it drop while they punched each other hard in the jaw. As the giants’ laughter and grunts of pain subsided, a figure on a white charger cantered up to him. Coinin knelt before the bloodied and battered Menin and still towered over her.

‘Coinin,’ she yelled. ‘You will have to rid the Sanctuary of those giants before we can move in on the goblins.’

Coinin raised his giant hands in submission; he had run out of ideas.

‘How?’ he drawled.

A heavy weight crashed into Coinin from behind. Arms and legs flailed as he fought off his unseen attacker. He felt a massive blow to his side as he was flung against a huge oak tree. One of the two giants had followed him, but he had little time to contemplate this as strong hands wrapped around his throat and squeezed.

Even though he could not feel the actual chokehold, he knew that the body would fail as it starved of oxygen. Without air, he and the giant would again swap minds, and Menin would be left in the company of two giants. Try as he might, he could not muster the strength to fight back, his muscles failing to respond to his will.

He almost lost consciousness, and things went black momentarily. Ghostly images swirled before him that made no sense, until he was again free of the confines of his body, in a similar manner to when he had searched for Marrok. He took a sharp upwards turn and instantly recognised his surroundings. The summit of the Cliff of Judgement loomed, and a few seconds later he was jolted to a stop opposite a cloaked figure who appeared through a mass of images of battle. The individual stood on top of a boulder, some thirty feet from the edge of the cliff, focused intently on the battlefield below. Coinin noted that the figure raised aloft a staff that held a globe of green light.

Had this man instigated this battle?

Coinin was suddenly whipped away and found he was again in control of the giant’s mind. He sat up stiffly and looked about him. Marrok beamed at him from the chest of his opponent, now dead at his hands.

Coinin struggled to speak, and it was a full minute before his throat was capable of it.

‘Wizard,’ Coinin croaked, and pointed towards the Cliff of Judgement.

All eyes looked in the direction of the cliff; however, it was too high to see what he had pointed to.

Marrok looked puzzled. ‘Where?’

Coinin coughed. ‘Up there, a wizard, controlling the giants,’ he growled.

Menin, looking haggard, turned to General Jericho who had joined her. ‘There should be no one up there. Seek out this mage and bring him to me.’

Jericho signalled that his squad should follow him. Each soldier saluted Menin as they filed past her, and raced to the Cliff of Judgement.

Marrok wiped his bloodied blade on his tunic and strode to Coinin. ‘Come on, brother, we have a giant to kill.’ A large smile spread across his face and his eyes were positively radiant.

Draken had taken refuge in the tallest of the temple’s towers. From this high vantage point, he had witnessed the battle with satisfaction. His nephews were still alive, and he had two of his trophies, but to leave the Sanctuary now would raise suspicion. He needed to remain blameless if he was to use the boys further. He was sure Menin would not discover the fake Rose of Cerathil until it was too late. Now he had to hide the real necklace, and hope that she would never discover the truth. The amulet had to be undetectable to sight, touch, and magic.

He withdrew his own sword from its scabbard. He peeled off leather strips that bound the grip on this specially made sword, and wound the amulet’s silver chain around the grip to form a new one. This complete, he inserted the ruby-red stone into a cavity within the pommel that he himself had built. He positioned a steel disc over the cavity to hide the ruby, and with a snap it clicked into place. Finally, he rewound the leather over the weapon’s grip, hiding the necklace.

Proud of his work, he cast a powerful charm that would prevent the discovery of the amulet by magical means. He replaced the sword in its sheath and wandered over to the tiny slit window to survey the scene.

General Jericho led his squad to the base of the Cliff of Judgement. His brow beaded with sweat from the jog, yet he looked resplendent in his gold-accented breastplate that dazzled as it caught the light. He wore a crimson velvet cloak about his shoulders with the Brotherhood insignia emblazoned across its back. He raised a golden-hilted sword for silence. His men formed a semicircle in front of him, and each knelt on one knee following his example.

‘I do not need to tell you that experienced wizards are notoriously difficult to capture, let alone kill,’ the general said, his fingers playing with his beard.

‘Sir,’ began a young private. ‘Why are we listening to the word of a giant? We have not even seen this mage; what if it’s a dark wizard up there?’

‘Then we are potentially in even greater trouble,’ Jericho replied. ‘In regard to the giant, well, he is no ordinary giant, he is an ally that Curator Menin trusts.’

The young private bowed his head.

Jericho continued. ‘I believe our best chance of countering this threat is to create a diversion. While this mage is distracted, we will attack from the rear.’

‘What’s your plan?’ Lieutenant Su’un Quindil, a short, plump man asked.

‘Simple.’ Jericho faced his lieutenant. ‘Your squad will make a frontal feint, and I will corner him from behind while he’s distracted.’

‘That’s not possible, Sir. You do realise what you propose is against protocol?’

‘Of course I do. I did not make General by sitting on my rump and getting fat while good men died in battle,’ he said as he patted his ample stomach. ‘That’s due to the fine wine and feasting. In all seriousness, though, I have fought in almost every campaign the Brotherhood has undertaken in the last thirty years, and today is no different.’

‘You stayed behind the front lines, Sir.’ Lieutenant Quindil reminded.

‘Are you questioning my authority, Lieutenant?’ Jericho demanded.

‘No, Sir. But Curator Menin will have my head if something were to happen to you.’

‘Then I shall have to make sure that doesn’t happen.’

‘I must insist that you remain behind. If you were injured or killed, we would lose our leadership.’

Jericho refused to listen to reason. ‘True, but I possess skills you do not, and my decision is final.’

‘I want it known that I objected,’ said Quindil.

‘Objection noted, Su’un. Now, I believe a single man will have a better chance to outmanoeuvre our uninvited guest.’

This strategy, he knew, had worked to great effect in the past. However, he had never tackled what was potentially a dark wizard single-handedly. He was nearing the age of compulsory retirement and desired one last glorious moment in battle. He had spent too many years, to his liking, watching others take the risks while he sat by and played the tactician. He was bored, and he was taking a great risk and knew it. He just hoped Menin would understand. He took a long look at his assembled men and smiled.

‘I do not think I need to tell you what a pleasure it has been serving the Brotherhood alongside you,’ Jericho began. ‘Should things go our way, I will treat you all to a fine feast of wine and women, the like of which has never been seen.’

Laughter was interspersed with a few cheers.

‘Just don’t tell Menin about the women, okay?’ Jericho winked to laughter. ‘Prepare yourselves, and let us defeat this coward.’

The general rose, cracked his neck, and signalled to his lieutenant to follow him. They moved aside from the group, and Jericho embraced the lieutenant’s shoulder before giving his final instructions.

‘I want you to keep your head down. If a man should fall then leave him, we will clean up later,’ he said without emotion. ‘Now if you are ready, go and prepare your men. I will need five minutes to get into position.’

Lieutenant Quindil looked ready to object, but thought better of it. He gave a short salute. ‘Sir, please be careful. Okay?’

‘I always am.’ Jericho smiled.

Quindil turned and headed back to his troop, and left Jericho to take one long last look at the devastated Sanctuary and the partial destruction of the golden temple. He offered a quick prayer to the gods for protection.

After removing his boots and holding them, he closed his eyes and concentrated on his destination, allowing the image to form in his mind to the point that it was almost real enough to touch. He remembered his training as a young man and the instructor telling him that trying to picture a destination was as hard as trying to visualise the back of his neck.

She was right, of course, yet he uttered a single word: ‘Destinaté,’ and disappeared with a small whoosh of air.

Moments later, he reappeared in a small recess in the walls of the mountain pass still holding his boots. He surprised even himself on the accuracy of his spell. However, this form of magic always took its toll on him. His head spun from the physical exertion that his body had endured before it reformed at its destination. He had little time to focus fully. His men were minutes away from staging their attack, and somewhere ahead of him was his quarry.

Lieutenant Quindil had his men assemble at each side of the Cliff of Judgement. He had split the troop into two units. Each man was battle-ready and a few offered silent prayers to the gods; others fingered prayer beads while they murmured to themselves.

Lieutenant Quindil clicked his fingers, which drew the two teams to his attention. He raised three fingers at them in a silent countdown.

As he reached one, Quindil cast aloud: ‘Ascenderá,’ and with a slight jolt he and his men ascended the cliff magically on a cushion of air. He was elated. This was the first time he had used magic in battle, and not everyone was permitted to or had the ability to use it at the temple. He had joined the order after his grandfather had seen the spark of a mage in him, and he had impressed the Archmage with his skill, so much so that he had taken special training over the years to improve his abilities.

Quindil was ahead of the group and cast a shield charm, ten feet in from the cliff edge, at the very moment he appeared above the lip. This would afford his men some level of protection as they landed softly.

The wizard had been ready for an attack. His proximity charm triggered. A shower of sparks shot into the air near the edge of the cliff. A flock of birds screeched, and then took flight.

The wizard looked left and right. Quindil’s charm had rendered his troops undetectable. It took moments for Quindil and his men to take up positions behind boulders and outcrops of rock at the sides of the pass. The wizard had not spotted the enemy yet, but would be ready for them; the sparks were evidence enough of that.

The wizard cast a ‘Disintegrá!’ spell. It broke the silence, and a wave of destruction powered its way towards the cliff edge.

The shockwave deafened them with a thunderous clap, and a flash of brilliant light blinded all those in its vicinity. It disintegrated all in its path, boulders and rocks reduced to dust that blew in the wind. Fortunately the wave had lost most of its power by the time it reached Quindil who had retreated behind a large boulder.

He closed his eyes tight as three of his troop bled to death in the dirt not too far from him. All that remained of a fourth was a severed hand that twitched uncontrollably.

From his vantage point, General Jericho cursed the evil before him. This ended now, either with this devil’s death or his own.

He would create three elaborate distractions, yet for this to succeed, he would need to be within ten feet of his foe. But this wizard was smart. He had already set up defences and Jericho had no idea what else the enemy had in store.

Jericho, however, had an ace up his sleeve; he could transform into a leopard, a gift bestowed by the gods. He took a deep breath and murmured to the creator, and then transformed into the silken-bodied black creature. Not a drawn-out, bone-wrenching, flesh-tearing experience like that of a werewolf, but as smooth as if he were made of silk.

He was never in full control of his alter ego. A certain amount of animal instinct took over, and that made him a hunter and killer, formidable in battle. Many a time his troops had been shocked to discover a leopard fighting alongside them on the battlefield, the official explanation from the Archmage was that it was a guardian spirit sent to protect the troops when they needed it most.

He silently padded into the cold night, and spied his prey in the distance.

A slim hand held aloft a long, thin wand that directed shafts of red light at Quindil’s men. The wizard’s spells smacked into rock and ground with a force that sent great plumes of dust into the air, inches from those who sheltered behind cover.

The dark wizard’s spell-casting was effective and kept the attackers at bay. However, Jericho in his new form was able to close the gap to within ten feet. He was ready to enact the rest of his plan when his forepaw trod on a dry twig and it snapped with a crack. The dark wizard whirled to face him, alert to the threat behind.

The general stopped dead, his foreleg raised several inches off the ground. The wizard dropped his staff and briefly disappeared, to reappear just inches from him. It was an effective use of the Destinaté spell.

Animal instinct took over and Jericho crouched low as he readied himself to pounce with a snarl.

‘I wouldn’t bother if I were you, Jericho,’ said a cold, high voice from under the hood of the wizard’s cloak.

Jericho felt speared to the core. How did this person know he had transformed into a leopard? Only senior order members knew of his gift. Should he bluff it? Maybe he could still deceive the threat into believing he was a dumb animal.

‘It is no use pretending, Jericho; I would know that form anywhere. Show your true self, or do I have to make you?’ The wizard brandished his wand.

There was no question then that this had to be a senior member of the order.

The wizard dropped his cowl and Jericho’s breath quickened; this had to be a lie, a figment of his imagination. Before him stood his wife Eraywen, although she looked cold and vacant.

‘Are you surprised to see me? I wonder whom you were expecting,’ she asked with a sneer.

Jericho transformed back into his human form. He did not bother to rise from all fours and his head hung low. ‘Why you?’ he asked quietly. His naked body shivered in the cold night air.

‘Because, my darling, I tire of watching you and your noble friends prance around the land in your vain attempt to put the world to rights. You force everyone to conform to your beliefs. It amuses me to cause disorder and watch you and your pathetic men try to stop me.’

‘Why, Eraywen? Why?’ Jericho asked miserably.

Eraywen strode up and down in front of Jericho, and appeared to enjoy the moment. ‘You think there is but one Council of Mages on this little rock? Wrong, there are two. You belong to the first, and I the second. You fight for truth and justice at the price of freedom. We fight to rid this world of your tyranny, and become the dominant spiritual power in the land.’

‘Why would you do this to the temple?’

‘This is just the start. We will rid this world of all Brotherhood temples, and what better temple to start with than your own,’ Eraywen replied.

‘Please Eraywen, stop this now, I beg you. This is my home.’

‘A home segregated from the world. I am afraid I cannot stop this. The wheels are in motion to destroy the Brotherhood of the Wulf, and that day will be a glorious day.’

‘You are deluded, Eraywen, and I will have to stop you.’

‘You do not stand a chance. Leave now and I will spare your life.’

Without warning, Jericho roared and leapt to his feet. In one swift movement, he grabbed Eraywen and twirled her so that she faced away from him. He held her tightly. Tears stung his eyes as he gripped her wand arm.

Eraywen attempted to free herself, but Jericho was a very strong man. A silver butterfly talisman swung from side to side around her neck as she struggled to free herself from Jericho’s grasp.

‘You cannot cast magic at what you cannot see,’ said Jericho through clenched teeth. ‘That is the preserve of the most eminent of mages, and eminent you are not.’

Eraywen merely craned her neck, looked him in the eyes and smiled. Jericho responded before she could act and spoke aloud a simple sleeping spell. Eraywen collapsed unconscious.

He stepped aside from her and retrieved his clothing, minus his armour, and quickly dressed. He then returned to Eraywen’s still form, but as he reached her, he froze. A terrifying half-screech, half-roar cut through the air, unlike any he had heard before. A dark shape appeared above him and blocked out the moon.

He was powerless to react as a colossal scaly claw enveloped him, and then a moment later a second clenched Eraywen in its grasp. The creature wrenched them both into the evening sky.

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