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Jun 15

A Beating Heart of Stone Part 4

They waded through a sea of goblins, a beady eyes turned upwards at their passing.

“I’ve never known goblins to be so complacent,” Maria whispered.

“I don’t think these are your average goblins,” the Captain replied. “They are living in an Ancient relic after all.”

They reached the dias and ascended its stairs, Mazanc greeting them with an unnerving smile.

“Welcome friends,” he said. “What brings you to my kingdom?”

“Kingdom?” the Captain asked cautiously.

“Yes, my kingdom under the earth, full of my loyal subjects,” he made a sweeping motion to the goblins.

Adrian leaned over and whispered in the Captain’s ear. “This guy’s madder than a bat.”

“I know. Just go with it,” the Captain mouthed. He addressed Mazanc. “We’re explorers, here to see your . . . magnificent realm.”

This conversation was a gamble and the Captain knew it. He hoped that by playing along with the man’s delusions he could find out where the others were. But with madness like this, one could never tell how a person would react.

Thankfully, he saw Mazanc’s eyes light up.

“Did you hear that?” he asked the goblins. “They called us magnificent.”

“Mazanc,” Carter said, stepping forward, speaking slowly. “It’s me, Carter. Remember?”

Mazanc stared blankly at him for a moment. “Yes. Yes, I remember you. I knew you before I was king. In that place that isn’t underground.”

“Yes,” Carter said slowly, “you did know me.”

“This is magnificent.” Mazanc raised his arms into the air. “An old friend of the king come to visit us.”

“Ten bats.”

“Quiet.”

“Speaking of old friends,” Carter said, “do you know what happened to the others? The people who came down here with you?”

Mazanc’s expression was suddenly grim, almost comically so. “They tried to take my crown,” he said with the intensity of the deeply paranoid. “So I had them exiled.”

“Exiled to where?”

“Wait, why do you want to know?”

“Just curious,” Carter said cautiously, “where are they?”

Mazanc started breathing rapidly, panic widening his eyes. “They sent you here didn’t they? They sent you to take my crown.”

“No, no,” Carter said quickly. “They didn’t send us.”

“Then why are you looking for them?”

“Because we’re worried about them,” the Captain said, desperately trying to revive the conversation.

“You’re lying!” Mazanc screeched. “You can’t fool me, I’m the king!”

The crew collectively backed away from the madman as he worked himself into a frenzy.

“You’re here to steal my crown!” He gripped his head with both hands. “You can’t have it. It’s mine!”

“No Mazanc, we aren’t here steal your crown,” Carter pleaded.

It’s too late.

“We’re just here to . . . “

“No!” Mazanc shouted. “You want to steal my crown just like the others did. You all want it for yourselves! You can’t take it from me!”

He raised his arms and the device behind him came to life, its orbs spinning in an intricate dance. There was a collective release of breath from the goblins, the sound of religious awe.

I see. They worship the device. Whoever controls it, controls them.

“Run. Now.” The Captain ordered, practically leaping down the dias’ stairs.

“You are all hereby banished from my kingdom,” the madman behind them shouted as they fled. “On penalty of death.”

A wall of goblins blocked their path, their innumerable hands clawing and grabbing at them. The Captain tried to force his way through the pack with magic and sword, but the sheer number of them made it impossible.

“Alexia,” he began, only to realize that Alexia wasn’t with them. He turned quickly and saw her on the dias, confronting Mazanc.

This is not the time to be heroic.

Leaving the others, he rushed back through the crowd, leaping over them as much as moving through them. Something Carter had said the previous night floated into his mind.

‘The Ancients were masters of magic. To them it was as universal as water is to us, and as easily controlled.’

He saw Alexia ready her staff.

No, no, no!

Mazanc laughed the laugh of a lunatic with the upper hand. The Captain felt something emanate from the great orb, an unbearable screeching that rattled the Will.

He gritted his teeth against it and pressed on, but Alexia was not so fortunate. Caught in the midst of willworking, she doubled over in pain, clutching her head in her hands.

The Captain reached the dias in time to grab her and pull her down, not wanting to see what else the device was capable of. He drew her through the crowd, fighting it off as best he could with her arm over his shoulder. Once away from the device the painful sensation in his soul receded to an uneasy whisper.

They reached the others as the legion of goblins began to descend on them. They fought as best they could, Gehard reveling as he always did in swordplay, but the Captain knew it was useless. It was only a matter of time before they were overwhelmed, and after that . . . He didn’t want to think about it.

How did the others escape?

He scanned the room, looking for a way out.

“There’s another tunnel on the side of the room,” he said, kicking away a gibbering face.

“I see it,” Alexia said weakly.

“Can you manage enough of a blast to clear the way there?”

“I think so. What about the . . . “

“Whatever that was, we’re beyond its range for now,” he said. “We should be safe once we’re out of this room.”

One of the goblins leapt at him from behind, only to be skewered by the end of Alexia’s staff.

“Nice work,” he said, backing his way to where the others were packed into a tight circle.

Gehard cut down a goblin holding a primitive club, “What’s your plan?”

“On my mark, we go for the side tunnel.”

Gehard nodded and returned to his blades.

“Are you ready Alexia?”

She took a deep breath and nodded.

“Now!”

An inferno sprouted from her hands, sending the horde scattering before it. For an instant the entire room was lit with brilliant orange, the fire’s light reflected a thousand times over by the metallic walls. The Captain saw Alexia grit her teeth against the exertion.

He led the way through the inferno’s wake, hot air greeting every heavy breath. Although she was trying to keep up, Alexia began to slip from his grip. He felt Gehard take her other arm as they ran for the exit.

“Get them!” Mazanc screamed from far behind.

The goblins began to close in around them again, cutting off their path.

“Maria,” the Captain shouted between breaths.

Twin walls of shimmering energy appeared on either side of their path, the goblins’ attacks bouncing uselessly off their sides.

They reached the room’s edge and plunged into yet another tunnel, leaving the horde behind them. They kept going past uncounted turns and intersections, until the sound of pursuing feet became distant, then vanished altogether.

Until they were lost amid the gold and light.

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