The Hero: Part 2
My father grabbed his brother and bore him to the ground, covering him with his own body as the creature leapt forward, straight onto my blade.
I felt the shock of the impact travel up my arm as my sword impaled the black cloaked creature. It screamed and spasmed in pain, but to my shock, it pulled itself back off my blade, fighting to get free.
I pulled my fighting dagger with my free hand and slashed the blade across the creature’s chest. I felt the blade bite into flesh, but if it did any injury, the creature gave no sign. It kicked out, landing a glancing blow to my thigh. I almost fell then, my leg suddenly weak, but my father was there, his blade sliced into the creature’s neck, showering us with blood.
The creature’s mouth opened to scream but made no sound. My father landed another savage blow and almost completely severed the creature’s neck. It’s struggles slowed and a moment later it was dead.
I pulled my sword from the corpse of the beast and cleaned it on a discarded cloth.
“Are you alright?” My father asked.
I nodded and checked for Hari. He had joined his father, kneeling on the ground beside Neera. My mother was pale, but alert, looking around the room.
“Suren.” She whispered. “There are more of them, I think.”
My mother was right. I’d been too busy fighting to notice, but everyone was shouting and screaming. I could see bodies on the floor, some bleeding, some trampled.
“Brother.” Suren called. “We must get out. We must leave.”
Jayant looked around in a daze, before suddenly drawing his authority about him like a cloak.
“No. We must get to the High Lord. We must stand together to fight, whatever this is.”
“We can’t leave her like this.” Hari protested.
Jayant lay a hand on his son’s shoulder. “We have no choice, my son. Once it is safe, we’ll return for her.”
“Hari, stay with Ramani, behind your father. Brother, I’ll lead and Adesh will watch our rear. We can mourn Neera once this is all over.”
“Lead on Suren.” Jayant replied. “Get us to the High Lord.”
We left our little pocket of calm and moved as fast as we dared towards the head of the room where the dais, and hopefully the High Lord, lay. Father shouldered panicked and fleeing people aside as he pushed onwards, coming across the body of another of the creatures, the numerous wounds on its pitch-black skin testifying that it hadn’t gone down easily.
Our progress was slow, not because the room was of enormous proportions, but because people were all trying to get out through various doors. Tables were strewn about or tipped over and cushions littered the floor, many with their stuffing burst out.
We found Bipin, the aged Jereba Clan Lord, dead, sitting against the wall, a sword in his hand. The blood on the blade proving that Bipin had at least managed to wound one of the beasts before dying. Having fought one, I was impressed, and saddened that he was now dead.
“Gods but he was tough.” Jayant commented as we swept past.
“We won’t see his like again.” Suren agreed.
As we hurried past another mess of burst cushions and a shattered table. I tripped over something, but managed to catch myself. The obstacle groaned softly and moved, a cushion slid off of it and I saw a lock of vibrant red hair.
“Father.” I called urgently.
Suren looked back.
“We don’t have time Adesh.” He admonished. “Come on.”
I ignored him and pulled a bit of a table and the rest of the cushions off the barely conscious form.
“Adesh!” Suren called.
“Father, it’s Atreya.” I replied. “She’s alive.”
I didn’t have time to be gentle. She was mumbling and clearly stunned badly. I picked her up and put her over Hari’s shoulder.
“Keep her safe, cousin.” I asked him.
“Uh, of course.” He replied.
We arrived at the dais and one by one we clambered up onto it. At the back, was the door that led back into the fortress, the curtain that had hidden it was thrown to the ground. We couldn’t see the door though as several dozen people were gathered around, imploring that they be let in. My father pushed through the mass, despite the protests and threats and arrived at the door, hammering on it with the pommel of his sword.
“Open for Lomo Jayant!” He shouted through the reinforced wooden door.
I was keeping watch behind us, so I spotted the creature the moment it headed in our direction.
“Father!” I shouted. “There’s another one coming.”
“Gods damn it!” Suren bellowed as he hammered on the door. “Open for Lomo Jayant!”
The door opened, slowly, and father pushed through it, holding it open for the rest of us. I was the last through as the creature made a flying leap onto the dais, behind all the people clamouring to follow us in. As I opened my mouth to order the door to be held open, my father was pushed aside, and the door slammed closed, sealing us off from the hall and the creatures rampaging outside. A moment later, something slammed into the door, hard enough for it to creak with the strain. The screams outside the door became louder.
I turned to see who had closed the door, furious that they had sentenced those outside to die, and found myself staring at my uncle.
“I’m sorry Adesh.” Jayant sighed, a sick look in his eyes. “There was no time. I couldn’t allow that thing to get past the door.”
I looked around the small chamber and found the High Lord, a cut on his cheek, as well as several others of his family, and Putcha Sohan.
Tsironis placed his hand on Jayant’s shoulder and squeezed it gently.
“A hard decision, my friend, well made. I know it’s not much consolation.”
The door rattled again, as something large slammed against it.
“We – we can’t stay here.” Jayant mumbled. “I’m not sure how long that door will last.”
“Surely you don’t think that what ever those creatures are can break through a reinforced door?” Sohan scoffed, pointing with his blooded sword. “Those doors look as though they were built to withstand a battering ram.”
The door rattled again, hard, and the hinges creaked.
“They’ll last a little time yet, I think.” My father opined. “But Jayant is right. We shouldn’t stay here, we should move back into the fortress.”
“That sounds best.” Tsironis agreed. “My family quarters should be sufficient to withstand those beasts.”
“We’ll need better weapons if they break in.” I suggested. “Father, I know you have a love for the ceremonial blades, but I’d prefer a solid shield and a good fighting sword between me and those things.”
“You’ll find what you need in the guard room, by my quarters.” The High Lord informed me.
“We should round up anyone able to hold a shield and sword as we go.” I added.
Tsironis nodded in agreement. “I see your son has matured somewhat while he was away, Ramani.”
“He’s certainly developing some good sense.” My mother smiled.
I crossed to where Hari had gently lowered Atreya to the floor and knelt beside her. I brushed her hair from her face. Blood ran down the side of her head, but a quick search found only a small cut. My mother knelt beside me and handed me a clean scrap of cloth.
“Here.” She offered. “Headwounds always look worse than they are.”
“We should go.” My father interjected.
“I’ll lead.” Sohan decided abruptly.
Suren put his arm across Sohan’s chest, stopping him. “Unless you’ve been in the fortress before, Putcha Sohan, I should lead. I know the way.”
Sohan looked somewhat disgruntled but nodded curtly.
I picked up Atreya and again handed her gently to Hari.
“I’ve got her.” He said quietly. “She’ll be okay.”
Sohan snorted quietly in the background.
I shot him a look of annoyance and he rolled his eyes.
“I’ll take the rear, father.”
Suren nodded. He expected no less from me. “I’ll lead. Sohan, you’re just ahead of Adesh. The rest of you stay together.”
Tsironis hesitated. “Maybe the back passages, Suren. I’m sure those creatures will have found their way out of the hall by now.”
My father took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s go.”
At the other end of the small chamber, a small door closed us off from other corridors. My father pulled the door open and ushered us through. As I strode past him, he clasped me on the shoulder.
“Keep your head straight and watch our back.”
“I haven’t said this enough, but I am proud of the man you’re becoming.”
I shrugged awkwardly. “Thanks father.”
With that, my father marched past the rest of the group and led us down a candle lit hall.
We followed the hall for several minutes and then father led us off into a narrower corridor. It was quite dark in places, but there was just enough light to see by. I heard my father barking something ahead but couldn’t make out what was being said. We stopped moving for a moment and then resumed. A tall, dark haired warrior in armour fell in beside me, throwing me a questioning look.
“What’s going on?” He asked. “Are we under attack?”
I nodded grimly. “There’re some creatures loose in the fortress.”
I shrugged. “I know, but there are plenty of people dead, my aunt included, back in the feasting hall. Keep your sword ready.”
“The man nodded nervously.
I frowned. “Where’s your shield?”
“Never needed one inside the fortress before.”
I waved away his reply. “I should have thought of that I suppose.”
I heard a scrabble of movement behind us and glanced back. Nothing to be seen, but I hadn’t imagined the noise.
“You hear something?” The warrior asked.
“Maybe. Be ready. Putcha Sohan?” I called quietly. “There may be something coming from the rear.”
“I have my sword ready, Lomo, don’t worry.”
“If we fall, you have the rear. Tell my father I tried my best.”
I tapped the warrior on his shoulder as I heard more movement. “We’ll hold it here.”
“We?” The warrior asked, sounding shaky.
“Yes. We. Stand tall, warrior, you’re defending the High Lord himself.”
That seemed to pull the warrior together and his back straightened.
I wished I had my usual fighting sword. Its shorter blade meant that I could have stood shoulder to shoulder with the warrior, but my longer ceremonial sword precluded that option. So I stood in the centre of the narrow corridor, and listened as the scrabbling noise drew closer.
“What’s your name?” I asked over my shoulder.
“Juri.” He replied nervously.
“Well, Juri, if you see an opening, don’t hesitate.” I advised. “These bastards are fast and strong.”
I saw it coming a moment later, sprinting towards me. It saw me and screamed that inhuman sound. I drew my fighting knife in my left hand and set myself, ready for the attack.
The creature almost had me with it’s first attack, as it sprung to one side and bounced off the wall. I jumped back a split second before its clawed hands swept across where my neck had been and managed to stab it in the side. Sadly, not a killing blow. Juri saw an opportunity though and stepped forward, lashing out with his shorter sword. The blade sliced deeply into the bicep of the creature, forcing it to retreat.
I followed the creature, my blades ready, and when it attacked again my sword found its belly. I yanked my blade out, with a twist. The beast yowled in anger and pain, but to my shock it didn’t stop. It charged at me, not as fast as before, slipping on its own blood and entrails. I thrust my blade forward again, a little higher this time, into its chest, and found its heart. The creature sighed and fell to the ground, almost dragging my sword out of my hand.
“Is it dead?” Juri asked.
I kicked the corpse, as I withdrew my blade.
“Looks that way.” I replied.
“What is it? Is it something from the void?”
I shrugged. “There’re more of them. We need to catch up with the rest.”
I led Juri at a slow trot along the corridor until we came to a junction. There was no way to indicate which way my parents and the High Lord and the others had gone.
“Left.” The warrior offered helpfully. “Right goes towards the kitchen.”
So left we went. A few paces down the new corridor I found blood on the wall, both human and creature, considerably more of the former than the latter. I glanced at Juri and we quickened our pace, following splashes of human blood, still wet. We climbed a set of stairs to the next level at a run and found Hari at the top. My cousin was sitting on the floor, his back against the wall and a killing wound to his side. I knelt beside him, but it was clear he was already gone.
“May the grace of the Gods guide you home and grant you peace.” I said softly.
I squeezed his shoulder and we left him. I worried who we’d find next. A few paces beyond the stairs we came to another junction. I looked at Juri again.
“Either way.” He replied worried. “We need to get up to the next floor, it’s about the same distance each way.”
I swore silently, then started examining the floor. I found some dark fluid, that was probably blood from one of the creatures a little way down the left passage. That was enough for me. We ran as fast as we dared until we found another set of stairs and climbed to the next floor. At the top, we ran into two warriors. No armour, but they had their swords drawn and looked ready for anything. They saw us coming and launched themselves down the stairs at us, stopping only when they recognised Juri.
“Juri!” The smaller of the two, a stocky woman with much of her hair shaved off, exclaimed. “What in Aratu’s name is going on? There’s talk of fighting in the hall!”
“Has the High Lord passed here?” I interrupted. “With the Lomo and Putcha Clan Lords.”
“What?” The second warrior asked. “No, no one’s come this way.”
“They must have gone the other way.” Juri swore.
I started to push past the two warriors, but the man grabbed my arm.
“Now see here.” He barked. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“The High Lord is in danger!” I replied sharply. “My uncle, Lomo Jayant, is with him. They must be coming up the other stairs.”
“Juri?” The female warrior asked.
“It’s true, Natalia. The High Lord is in danger.”
“Let him though, Marcel.” The female warrior, Natalia, ordered.
“But …“ Her companion began.
I wrenched my arm free and pushed the man against the wall.
“I don’t have time for this.” I growled. “The High Lord is in danger. Stay out of my way.”
I saw the man’s eyes suddenly widen and heard that chilling shriek again. I spun around as Juri yanked Natalia out of the path of the charging creature. This had the unfortunate consequence of leaving me as its next available target. I shouted in defiance and surged forward, my sword ready. At the last moment I danced aside, turning and lashing out as I did. My blade sliced into the creature’s skin, cutting shallowly from shoulder to waist. The creature shrieked, again. I couldn’t tell if it was pain or anger, but the sound chilled my blood. Juri and Natalia had recovered and launched an attack on the creature’s back, while the other warrior, Marcel, had also gathered himself and had started to circle to its other side. The creature knew it was surrounded, but it didn’t seem to care. It turned, faster than any person could have and pounced on Marcel, sinking claws into the man’s chest.
Marcel cried out in agony as the creature bore him to the ground. I charged the creature and shouldered it off the wounded warrior. The thing rolled as it hit the ground and got its feet beneath it. I slashed at it again, but it managed to jump back, avoiding my rushed assault. As it did, I had time to notice that it already bore wounds. The injuries didn’t seem to be hindering it in anyway, but someone else had definitely managed to wound it.
If I had hoped that the creature would show caution at being attacked by multiple warriors, I was sadly mistaken. It sprung towards me, being the closest target and I barely managed to slip aside from its attack. If I hadn’t been wearing armour it might have succeeded in killing me. As it was, it left a sizeable dent in my breastplate, and almost knocked me to the ground. Juri attacked it all out, his sword sweeping left and right, up and down. The creature dodged each and every thrust and cut. Natalia was able to use its distraction to thrust her sword deep into the thing’s chest. It made a pained whistling noise, which was cut off as Juri hacked his blade into the thing’s neck. It slumped to the ground, spasming as it died. Juri and Natalia stepped back from the creature and we looked at each other.
“What was that thing?” Natalia asked, her voice reedy with barely contained panic.
“I’ve no idea.” I replied.
“The High Lord.” Juri reminded me.
I nodded. “We need to go. Natalia, where’s the nearest guard room?”
“Just a little way down the hall.” The warrior replied. What about Marcel?”
Marcel lay in a large pool of blood, his eyes fixed towards the ceiling. He was gone and we all knew it, but I knew what she was asking.
“We have to leave him. We’ll come back after this is done and do right by him.”
Juri nodded. “He would understand.”
“Alright. I need a proper sword and a damn shield, and you need armour. Juri, do you need anything?”
“Just a shield, I guess. A few more hands wouldn’t go astray either.”
I grunted my agreement.
We trotted down the hall, following Natalia, and into a small room. Racks were secured to each of the walls and on them hung weapons and armour. Swords and spears primarily, all oiled and sharp. I glanced at my own sword, blood splattered and filthy, but still sharp. I grabbed a rag and wiped what blood I could off the blade before sheathing it. Once this was all over it was going to need some attention. I grabbed a shorter, thicker, sword and belted it to my waist. On the wall by the door, several shields were hanging, and I took the closest one, plain but functional. I slid it on and felt its weight. It would do fine. Juri took another shield while I helped Natalia strap on a breast plate.
“It’s a little small.” The woman judged, as I tightened the straps. “But it’ll do. Next time I rush out of the barracks, I won’t forget to put my own on.”
I was conscious of the time and as soon as I finished with Natalia, I led us out of the room.
I let Natalia take lead and in short order, she led us to the High Lord’s quarters. As we arrived at the door, I spotted another of the creatures rounding the far corner. It, much like the creature we’d just fought, was wounded, but looked just as capable. I banged on the door with my fist.
“This is Lomo Adesh! Did the High Lord arrive?”
The door cracked open, and I saw my father peering out.
“Adesh! Get in, and bring your companions.”
“Juri! Natalia!” I shouted. “In!”
We piled through the door and my father slammed it shut behind us, dropping a wooden beam into place, securing the thick, reinforced, door. Unlike earlier, when we’d put a door between one of the creatures and ourselves, there was no sudden assault on the door. It was eerily silent. My father and I listened at the door for a moment, before relaxing. Suren embraced me in a firm hug and slapped my shoulder.
“I worried, son.”
“Me too, father. We’ve killed two of those things and neither was easy.”
“I see that.” My father commented, as he touched the dent in my breast plate.
“I found Hari.” I said, sombrely.
My father bowed his head. “Another of those things ambushed us. Only for Sohan, we’d have been lost. He managed to fight it off long enough for the rest to get away. I was able to wound it a little, but not before it got Hari.”
“Your mother is fine. She’s further in with the rest. I opted to stay here and secure the door. Sohan is guarding the only other door to these apartments.”
“Still unconscious, last I saw her. Jayant was carrying her when we were attacked. Your mother is with her.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Knowing that my family, and Atreya, were safe meant that I could focus on fighting.
“Maybe I should check on Sohan.” I suggested.
Someone banging on the door interrupted my father’s reply.
“If there’s someone in there, open for Clan Lord Terada Ishika!” A strong voice called desperately.
I heard someone cry out in pain and head the shriek of one of the creatures.