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The kingdom through the.., p.5
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       The Kingdom through the Swamp: The Courts Divided - Book 1, p.5

           Kell Inkston
 
CHAPTER FIVE: UNEXPECTED INHABITANTS OF THE GOLDEN SWAMP

  With Matimay at the front, the party has traveled about an hour through the lush, green forest. Lain has been incredibly uncomfortable and tired for half of this time from too much walking and is now seriously considering complaining to Law and asking for a piggyback ride or something. He is met with the ultimatum of preserving his image to the others, or resting his poor magician feet. They press on into a large clearing of what seems to be small golden shrubs, stretching for what seems to be well over two kilometers. Matimay takes one more step and turns about, saving Lain’s image and feet in one fell swoop of grace.

  “I ask for thine ears and minds if you will permit,” the high-voiced Matimay requests as he places his hands together. All eyes focus on him.

  “Sure,” Order says. Matimay curtsies.

  “Verily. I beseech thee to inspect the scape of nature beyond. This gold land, crowned with leaves, is none other than the sunken forest by the name you know well.”

  “This is the sunken forest? I expected something more. I dunno, underwatery,” Aoline states, crossing her arms in thought. Law scoffs lightly at Aoline’s statement.

  “Hmm, to thine eyes, it may verily appear just a plain, but would one traverse this abyssal forest, this metaphorical traveler might find the ground to let way most easy, as not soil this be, but water,” Matimay says, submerging his foot through the leaves, and into the water. Aoline lets loose a quick “Oh!”

  “That’s water?”

  “Indeed, dear knightess. Should one lack the proper knowledge, this forest’s traversal would be a dangerous submersion, risking one’s life under the gaze of the family of belfarrows that lurk below. Take heart, however, as our fairyful folk of old have made a safe way of wooden walk, to pass through the golden ruins of aquatic nature. Be you ready to cross, I shall acquaint you with the way,” the fairy instructs, using the fairish word for a common breed of great water serpent. Order looks over the knights, the only one looking particularly tired being Lain.

  “Let’s keep going,” Order commands. Order then speaks under her breath and then snaps her fingers. Suddenly Lain feels perfectly fine, ready to walk thirty more miles. He was just about to fall to his knees and beg, but all of his pain has subsided in the same instant Order snapped her fingers. He realizes that Order’s as capable a magician as he’s heard: a master of over a thousand magics.

  A chipper Lain follows in the group as Matimay leads them along the side of the golden, tree-filled lake and finally to a group of large planks marked and held together by a swarm of vines. The gentleman fairy leads the six onto the overgrown boardwalk, submerged just an inch under the water. The group sets onto the bridge and begins their crossing.

  During the crossing, Law, in particular, is surprised that the bridge can hold their weight to allow them all crossing at once, especially considering the weight of some of their equipment. Should Aoline fall in, she would sink like a rock, and if Order were to pull her legendary weapon, Monument, out of its dimensional sheath, the bridge would collapse in a moment’s notice. The dragon-kin nods, impressed with the probably-enchanted fairy infrastructure, and continues along with the others. He admires the forest lake a good while more as the leaves rise in the deep center of the sunken forest, where the tallest trees are. He notes the water has a warm, clear, almost spring-like aspect to it, figuring that it’d be quite good for a swim so long as one could fight off the large aquatic predators.

  They continue to cross, just now hitting the halfway point, when Law’s ears pick something up. It sounds like singing--very horrible singing.

  “Halt,” Law says, shifting his eyes over to the right. “It sounds like it’s coming from behind that group of trees over there.”

  “What is it?” Lain asks, stopping with the rest. Order offhandedly grasps the hilt of Monument, its blade securely pressed into its dimensional sheath; she can already feel the nature of what’s behind the tree. Law and Love look over to Order, who nods.

  Law quickly draws his towering mace out and enters a guarding stance. Love laxly pulls from her shoulder her bow, Worldloss and caresses the string with a sleepy expression. Order just stands there, holding her grip securely on Monument’s handle.

  “What is it?!” Lain says again, quickly getting behind an equally afraid Matimay. Aoline gets to Order’s side and grasps the hilt of her sword the same way Order is with her own. Dresmond reaches into his cloak.

  Lain quivers behind the others as they all listen to the singing, getting closer and closer. By this point, everyone can hear the source of the music bending around the group of trees separating them:

  “-as we please. It’s a fine day, anyway! Chaos can go, and stroll in the. the... I dunno, as we, his minions free, travel to his tower as a fine party of threeee. Take it away, Combat Minion!” the voice rings with a peppy, childish humor.

  “No,” another, much deeper voice says with a tone of absolute loathing.

  “Oh, come on!”

  “Hell no. Cooking Minion, your songs are stupid. You should let the Choir Minions have the job of serenading during trips, and really, you should have shut up an hour ago, who knows what sort of unoverlordly creatures you’ll attract- they'll think it’s a mating call or something. Do you want to be assaulted by Royal Knights? I hear stupidity is something they find sexy.’

  The group stays quiet, certain the owners of the voices will be visible in just moments more.

  “Get real! You know, you’re sort of a butthole when I sing--you know that? You’re always like ‘Ooga booga, you sing like weakling’. It’s just rude!”

  “Rude? Ha! Coming from the one who baked bananas into my bread!” The knights hear a sharp, obliterated gasp come from the squeakier voice.

  “BANANA BREAD IS REAL! PEOPLE EAT IT IN OTHER DIMENSIONS ALL THE TIME! WE’VE BEEN OVER THI-”

  “You’re being loud again!” the deeper voice says.

  “YES I AM, COMBAT MINION. I REFUSE TO BE PUSHED AROUND BY YOUR MEAN-ASS UNFAIRNESS ANY LONGER! I’M GOING TO TAKE A STAND FOR MYSELF AND... AND... I’LL TELL CHAOS THAT YOU’VE BEEN UNPLEASANT!”

  “Big deal, as if he’d even ca--”

  “AND TELL HIM YOU CALLED HIM A BLACK BUNNY!”

  The knights can hear a giggle from a third voice.

  “...You wouldn’t,” the deep voice says.

  “Try me!”

  “Yeah?”

  “YEAH, YOU DORK, YEAH!”

  “You piece of... well what if... what if I told him first?” the deep voice threatens as they come out from behind the tree.

  It’s a group of three of Overlord Chaos’ minions, clearly identifiable having been infested with The Overlord’s black and white essence. Their blacker-than-pitch light-absorbing bodies, glowing round eyes and large, teeth lined jaws come into view. The three of them are riding a raft, the large, gruff one oaring them along.

  “Well, eh, that-”

  “Guys,” the third Minion, unspoken until now, interrupts between the banter.

  “Little busy right now, Magic Minion,” the scrawny, small dog-sized one says, probably the one referred to as Cooking Minion. The third one, originally relaxing to the side of the raft, stands up with her staff.

  “We’re about to be busy being dead if you don’t look right now,” Magic Minion states as she analyses the situation. The knights watch the other two minions look their way, both groups not even 10 meters from one another. The three instantly break into commotion.

  “OH, Shhhiiiiiiiiiiii-”

  “Aw hell no, Magic, do you have anything for this?” Combat Minion says as he starts rowing faster, talking over Cooking Minion’s screech of fear.

  “I think so,” Magic Minion says the moment she notices the entire enemy group is partially submerged. Magic Minion pulls from her person a magic slip that the Overlord himself had prepared for her use in case she should run into trouble. She then attaches the slip to her staff and begins casting a spell under her breath as
she dips the tip of her staff into the water. There is a sharp humming noise coming from the staff.

  Order lowers her head and looks forward, a normal response she makes when thinking.

  “Love, fire,” Order says as she watches the minion’s actions closely. Love promptly does as she’s told and draws back her bowstring, quickly manifesting an arrow out of pure mana. Love fires bolt after bolt of magic into the air, not at the minions, but straight into the air. Lain and Aoline quickly exchange confused glances, same as the minions.

  “I see,” Love says with a smile, quickly getting a hold of the minion’s strategy and Order’s countermeasure. Order quickly steps over and picks up Law, weighing at least 200 kilos with all of his equipment.

  ‘Wh- Uh, my lady?’ the large Law spouts in confusion.

  “Everyone, on top of Law!” Order commands as she kneels down for everyone else to jump up. In the span of five seconds, everyone in the group climbs on top of Law, held by Order, who stands up the moment Magic Minion finishes her spell. The fit is tight, but everyone can just barely make it on top of Law’s wide torso.

  “Drotmayhain!” Magic Minion casts, the root word quickly identifying it to Order and Love as a lightning spell. The magic slip’s purpose revealed, it pushes the spell's power to multitudes of over what Magic Minion could normally do; Order was right in guessing that Chaos had sealed a spell of his own into the slip so his minions could use a spell near his level. This immense discharge instantly exhausts Magic Minion, sending her to the floor of the raft.

  In the blink on an eye, electricity arcs from the staff, into the water, and then all about the minion’s raft in a two hundred meter radius, almost reaching to the edge of the lake on one end. In the same instant, the knights are surrounded by the vile voltage, easily enough to shock an unprepared warrior and end his life in an instant. The electricity surges through Order but reaches no higher than her waist, effectively saving those without a suit of armor bearing as many enchantments as hers.

  The shock subsides, and on Love’s cue the group hops off Law’s bulwark-like chest back into the water. Order places an embarrassed Law back on his own two feet.

  “Eh, good job, sir,” Law says to Order, who only flinched as the lethal shock traveled through her.

  “Yeah, now draw your weapons, the fight hasn’t even started yet,” Order says as she replaces her grip upon Monument’s hilt. Law pauses a moment and then draws out his mace.

  The tall, well-built Combat Minion peers at the knights with disgust.

  “The hell, Magic Minion? You that useless? You didn’t even get one of ‘em!” Combat Minion yells over Cooking Minion, who has again resorted to mindless, terrified screeching, sort of like an exotic bird that keeps losing properties in a game of Duopoly™. Magic Minion turns upside to speak.

  “Watch,” she says with the phantom of a smile as Combat Minion rows them off.

  Order looks over to Love.

  “Do you think you shot enough?” Order asks as she crouches down and begins making magical hand-gestures.

  “Oh, I’m pretty sure, I’d say it’s safe for you to go ahead,” Love says with a relaxed smile as she looks up to the arrows, still suspended in the air awaiting her directions. In the next instant Order casts a spell, propelling her far above into the air, soaring right to the minion’s raft.

  “Shit!”

  “I’M NOT READY TO DIII--”

  “Dammit,” the Combat, Cooking, and Magic Minions say respectively as Order draws Monument out with a flash of light and smashes down into them with catastrophic force. The raft is instantly destroyed and the minions, now quite unconscious from the sheer force of the blade’s movement, are sent flying. Order quickly casts another spell as she uses alteration magic to stand on the surface of the water.

  ‘Gravholn!’ she casts, being a skilled enough magician to skip the majority of the incantation and go right to the finishing phrase. The water below begins unsettling as the soaring minions are caught by an unseen force and brought back to Order, who easily recovers their unconscious bodies with her magically-augmented strength. Minions in tow, Order turns to the others as the trees below sway with the shadows of unknown beasts.

  “P-perhaps the good, kindly dragoneer would take harmony with my near proximity!” Matimay says, forgoing his hatred of dragons and their kind to pile behind Law with an equally-terrified Lain. Law sighs and focuses himself.

  Order casts a similar spell to her first and launches herself back to the way of the group, just as the first of the angry belfarrows rise from the deep, disturbed by the shock of electricity. The large water beast, an amphibious, wide-gaped serpent with teeth as large as a person’s arm, emerges from the sunken forest and swims straight for the group. It rears its awakened, white head and opens its mouth, displaying the armies of teeth for all to see.

  Love gestures at the belfarrow’s current location and activates her spell. Suddenly one of the arrows she had shot into the air embeds itself directly into the belfarrow’s neck, sending it squirming back into the depths. It was only the first of the swarm, and its swelling in the water is accompanied now by dozens more. Order, landing to the others, drops the minions and redraws Monument, still using her alteration magic to use the water as a ground in and of itself.

  The belfarrows are upon the group with only a moment before their conjoined strike.

  “Love, left. Law, right. Recruits, the back,” Order commands the knights, who quickly follow the orders of Order and enter a circular rank.

  The belfarrows ram into the group and are quickly met with the ethereal edge of Monument, a barrage of the shot arrows from Love, the immense, crushing weight of Law’s mace, and the conjoined strike of Aoline and Dresmond--Lain still quite paralyzed. Out of the mania a belfarrow comes from beneath and smashes through the walkway, separating the recruits, Matimay, and Law, with Love and Order.

  “Hold on!” Law shouts as he grasps the young knights and fairy, and grips the walkway as it rattles from the released pressure. As the walkway was connected via vines, the resistance is now cut and the two pathways are separated. A single belfarrow perceives their vulnerability and smashes into the walkway again. Aoline, the one at the edge of Law’s grip, is shaken off the platform and loses balance. Lain stares as the white-haired girl topples into the water with an unshaken expression of elation.

  “Ancestors!” Law shouts as Aoline descends into the clear depths, some of the belfarrows taking notice and diving down. With as much speed as he can in the five seconds it takes him, Law orders Dresmond to keep the other two safe, strips off as much of his armor as he can, and leaps into the steaming abyss.

  Love and Order continue shooting and cutting through waves of the beasts until they unanimously descend and disappear from sight. There is a ruckus throughout the sunken forest as the serpents brush against the trees below.

  There is a short, calm pause; Lain can hear the sound of bird chirping above as he looks down to see a violent, sporadic shape thrashing about in the depths. It’s getting closer. Lain focuses his gaze and then realizes it’s coming right for them. Smashing out of the water is Law, gripping a belfarrow by the neck with Aoline pierced in its jaws. Dresmond throws a few careful knives into the animal as it crashes into the walkway. Law yells a very rude word in a draconic dialect the second the creature’s neck is finally snapped from his grip. Aoline, her armor only dented by the jaws of the belfarrow, is released and stands up as fast as she can. Law dons his armor with a humorless expression--all part of the job.

  “Thanks! D-did we get them all?” an un-phased Aoline asks over the horrified whimpers of Matimay and Lain. Order gives Love another signal, gesturing toward the very large swell of water approaching them.

  “Not quite, what a bother,” Love says with as relaxed an expression as ever as she raises her hand.

  Forcing itself out of the waves and glistening in the sunlight is the mother of the swarm, ten times bigger than the rest. The great queen of the lake lo
oms over the group with a fire of rage in its gaze. Order, were her helmet off, would gladly return the creature’s iron stare but decides instead to cut this short.

  “Now,” Order says as she again launches herself with the same spell, this time at the ruler of the sunken forest. In the blink of an eye, Love orchestrates a complex gesture, sending her two final arrows in the sky right into the queen dragon’s eyes. In the fraction of a moment she can, Order raises Monument in flight and smashes her blade into the face of the queen, letting forth a torrent of serpentine blood into the air.

  Law cringes.

  The queen gives a great roar, blinded and with an epic gash across her face, and begins snapping wildly into the air to catch the Masteress Knight of Light. Order redirects her path mid-flight with another spell and hurdles down to the belfarrow’s neck. She incises her sword into the queen’s side and falls back to the water, cutting more than half the creature’s length. The belfarrow queen gives one last great howl and then submerges into the depths as her blood wells up and mixes with the water.

  “Is everyone alright?” Law asks the four less-powerful members of the party. Everyone signals that they’re fine with a nod, a “yeah,” and for Matimay, a “verily.” Order sheathes her sword and regroups with the others, just a short water’s walk away. Love hops into the water to meet up with the group at the same time.

  “Hmm, good job, Ranalie,” Love says with a smile, pulling herself out at the other side of the walkway.

  “Only thanks to your arrows,” Order says with a stretch.

  “Oh, you do me too much credit! You know I’m terrible at suspending bolts!” Love says while she waves her hand in a shooing motion. Law stares coldly, still coming to grips with the fact that he was used as a board for people to stand on and only got a small taste of the fight because of Aoline’s accident. Order and Love complement each other back and forth like the two long friends that they are, and then Matimay decides to speak up after clearing his throat.

  “G-good ladies?” he begins, still a little shook up.

  ‘Oh, yes, Matimay?’ Order asks as Love begins casting a spell to hold onto their new captives.

  “I eh... he... eh. We cou-should…” Matimay takes a moment to catch himself after all the trauma. “Indeed! Righto! My good warrior of legend, might we be, how shall I say, be off? It weighs upon my bravery to waste more of our sun’s graces here,” Matimay says with a quivering smile. Order looks over to Love, and Love to Order.

  “Sure,” Order agrees calmly. Law takes a breath.

  “Knights, back in rank,’ he says with drastically-less volume than last time. The group gets in rank just as Love finishes her spell. She speaks the final few words and from her hands comes shackles made of mana. Glowing, deep chains of blue and white pulse out from Love’s hand with every crafting motion. Love straps the three larger sets of clamps around the necks of the minions and secures the last one down around her own wrist. With her magically-augmented strength, she picks up all the unconscious minions and enters rank. Aoline smiles radiantly, impressed with her superiors, though not especially surprised, and looks over to Lain.

  “I told you they were awesome,” Aoline says to the wide-eyed Lain, who has never seen a day this incredible in all of his eighteen years of life.

  “Yeah... um, yeah,” he says blankly as Matimay leads the knights through the rest of the sunken forest and onto much-missed solid ground.

 
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