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Aug 10

A Beating Heart of Stone Part 8

The Captain lifted his head, this time hoping desperately that their surroundings had changed. Four pedestals still sat poised in the next room, glimmering in the sinister light, exactly as they had been before.

He pushed himself up. “Everyone alright?”

“Define alright.”

He helped Maria to her feet. “Uninjured.”

Alexia leaned her head against the wall. “Then yes.”

“We need to get moving.”

“Why!” she suddenly exclaimed. “There’s no point. We’re going to die down here one way or another.”

The Captain knelt down next to her. “You know, I’ve been through things like this before, above ground and below. I’ve seen people die and I’ve seen people survive. Do you know what separates the two?”

She didn’t respond.

“The people that live aren’t always the smartest ones, or the strongest, but they’re the ones who refused to give up. They chose to rise above despair and face whatever fate had handed them. That is what it means to be a part of this crew.” He offered her his hand. “So you can stay here if you like, but I won’t be joining you.”

She sighed deeply, but took his hand.

“Captain?” Maria said, staring down the tunnel.

“Yes?”

“You’re not going to believe this.”

The Captain followed Maria’s gaze. Carter stood at the tunnel’s end, which had been an empty passage only moments before.

The Captain stood and simply watched as he drew nearer, unable to trust what he was seeing. Only when he threw his arms around his old friend did he truly believe Carter was there.

“It’s good to see you’re safe.”

“You as well.”

“How did you find us?”

“We didn’t find you. We moved you.”

“We?” Maria asked.

Carter gave her his famous half smile. “Follow me, there are people you need to meet.”

– –

For the second time in an hour, the Captain could not believe what he was seeing. Three Order mages stood in the tunnel before him, people he had all but given up on ever finding.

“Carter, your arm,” Maria exclaimed. “What happened?”

“Oh, this,” turned over his bandaged hand. “It’s just a sprain.”

“I can heal that for you.”

“No!” the mages all said in unison.

“Sorry,” she backed away, hands raised in the air. “I was just trying to help.”

“I know,” Carter said. “But Mazanc can tell when you use magic.”

“Really,” the Captain said, looking at Carter’s arm.

“Wait. I know that look,” Carter said. “You have an idea.”

The Captain nodded. “I know how we’re going to get out of here.”

– –

Carter took a deep breath to steady himself. They only had one chance at this and he knew it.

He took Menlas and Exas’ hands, forming a closed circle of mages. A moment of unasked-for nostalgia hit him when he realized he hadn’t done this since his third year advanced spellwork class. He’d thought the practice useless at the time.

After leading Cal and his crew into position they had instructed the goblin to leave. It wasn’t fair that she be caught up in what was about to happen. Exas seemed sad at her parting, even though he had been the first to admit it was necessary.

“Alright,” he said. “All together now.”

He began to feel the collective flow of power created by their circle

“Verum ergo vires,” he said, reciting the Order motto.

“Verum ergo vires,” they repeated back to him.

And may the All hold us in his sight, we’re going to need it.

Carter focused his Will on the center of the circle, where an enchantment breaker sat, and felt his magic unite with that of those around him. With the dreamlike lucidity of spellwork he began feeding power into the crystal. He saw with the sight of the Will their energies pooling within the object and spilling out of it.

Single use objects like the enchantment breaker weren’t meant to hold large amounts of energy, meaning it was only a matter of time before the crystal could no longer contain it.

When it felt as though the crystal was on the verge of bursting Carter signaled the others to stop. They fell away from the circle, one by one, leaving his Will alone holding the crystal at bay.

He backed as far away from it as he dared before releasing his hold of it entirely. The enchantment breaker erupted almost instantly into a column of light.

“It worked,” Menlas said, shielding her eyes from the glow.

“Yes,” Carter said. “Now we get as far away as we can.”

He broke into a run and the others followed, not wanting to be anywhere near the center of Mazanc’s attention.

– –

The Captain watched as a stream of goblins passed through a nearby intersection, on their way to deal with the errant magic. When they were gone he turned to the rest of his crew. “That will take care of them for a while. Now we’ve got a king to dethrone.”

On his signal they charged through the remaining passages and into the throne chamber. The ploy had worked, only a few dozen goblins stood between them and Mazanc.

“Take the goblins, I’ll get the crown.”

He let the rest of his crew pass him and cut a swath through the wall of diminutive guards. He rushed through the opening and up the steps to where Mazanc stood.

The man looked even worse than when the Captain first saw him. His eyes were bloodshot and darted wildly, his hair was matted to his scalp with grease and dirt, and through the holes in his tunic an emaciated ribcage was visible.

“Usurpers!” he shouted, as if the word was some terrible weapon. “I’ll have you executed for this.”

The Captain raised his sword to the man’s threat.

“So you will kill your king?” The device behind him began moving. “Death to all blasphemers!”

Silver lightning arced from the great orb through its lessors and plunged toward the Captain.

He met the bolt with his sword and sent it scattering uselessly along its length. He carried the motion through and swung at Mazanc, only to be stopped by the man’s own blade.

Another bolt came and the Captain deflected it, only to narrowly avoid Mazanc’s wild swing. The mad king swung again and again, acting with fervor no sane man could have mustered.

The Captain deflected each strike, but found himself off balance when the next shock came. He raised a hasty shield of reflective light, but the force of the blast threw him backwards and sent a shock through his consciousness. He stumbled down the stairs, landing on his back at their base.

Mazanc’s sword came down on him and hastily rolled to the side, feeling the steel pass just beyond his shoulder. Before the next blow came the Captain kicked out one of Mazanc’s legs and rolled out from under the man as he fell.

The Captain righted himself and, sword pointed at Mazanc, backed his way back up the steps.

Glancing behind him, the Captain saw sparks gathering. Mazanc got to his feet and, snarling, charged up the stairs toward the Captain.

The Captain deflected Mazanc’s wild swing and stepped to the side, leaving the madman in the path of the lightning bolt. He saw the energy begin to disperse, but enough remained to arc through Mazanc’s sword.

The king stood for a moment, stunned, a trickle of smoke rising from underneath his sleeve. Then he slowly swayed backwards.

The Captain caught the front of his tunic before he fell and lifted the crown from his head with his tip of his sword.

Abruptly the fighting below ceased. The goblins turned as one and watched as he carried the crown down from the dias.

“Go,” he said, pointing to one of the tunnels. “Leave.”

The goblins dropped their weapons and ran for the passage, passing Carter and the mages as they arrived.

The Captain held up the crown so they could see it.

“I see things here went well.”

“Just like old times,” the Captain said.

“You mean,” Exas said, “we’re actually getting out of here?”

“Finally,” the third mage breathed.

“What do we do with that?” Menlas asked, pointing at the crown.

The Captain turned the metal band over in his hands. “I suppose we could take it back as a souvenir.”

“Or to study,” Carter said eagerly.

“Yes,” Menlas agreed, “to study.”

“You can’t take that from me.”

The Captain turned and saw Mazanc struggling to his feet. “I am Mazanc Pryts!” he shouted, thrashing the words out with mad abandon. “I am your king! I am invincible!”

At that moment a large orb of crystal dislodged from the ceiling and landed squarely on Mazanc, crushing him.

Shocked silence descended on the room.

The Captain looked up to where the orb had fallen from, now a gaping hole in the otherwise pristine surface. Then, slowly, terrifyingly, the ceiling began to move. Its great circles rotated within one another, gaining speed until they became a yellowish blur.

“What’s happening?” Adrian asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you see,” Mazanc croaked. “The ruin . . . is alive.”

Then the room began to crash down around them.

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