The catastrophe of the e.., p.10
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.10
 

           LR Manley
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  “What in the love of chaos is THAT?!!” 

  Bue grabbed Jared by the sleeve of his jacket. “Come on!!” he yelled and pushed him towards the sports hall.

  In the room the two soldiers looked at each other, then at the creature and both made for the window. One was still punch drunk from where Bue had hit him but the other leapt for the open window. His feet scrabbled successfully for purchase as he heaved himself up and out. The remaining man tried to climb out but the monster loomed up behind him.

   “Wait!!!” the man pleaded to the soldier outside who simply gazed blankly back at him.

   The huge creature tottered towards the remaining man. scooped him up in its arms and pinned him in a crushing grip. With a furious growl the creature then stepped backwards into the corridor and simply stepped into the wall. The thrashing soldier’s legs kicked madly and his feet could momentarily be seen protruding, making ripples in the grey stone. Then they were gone.

   Bue and Jared ran to the door of the hall and burst through it with the soldier sprinting after them. 

  “STAND FAST!!!” a figure shouted and Jared found himself staring at a loaded and primed crossbow. 

  “Leppard, it’s us!” Bue shouted back and Leppard hesitated before lowering the bow and then raising it again when he saw the soldier running up behind them. The man veered off and hid behind one of the pillars in the central courtyard. Leppard triggered the bow and sent the long bolt in his direction, the shot whistling through the air and dissapearing into the woods.

   Jared staggered to a stop, panting madly and pulled up in horror as a huge creature lumbered up beside Leppard. He stumbled and fell, his back to the wall. Leppard ignored it and turned to Jared as he lowered his bow.  

  “It’s ok,” he said reassuringly, glancing at the creature that stood silently next to him, its shoulders slowly heaving. “It won’t hurt you. They only attack trespassers.” 

  “Wh, what is it?” Jared stammered as he finally found his voice.

   Leppard closed the door and bolted it, then turned back to Jared. “They are the wall keepers, the final line of defence against attack. We call them the Vagthunder.” 

  At mention of its name the creature glanced at Leppard and then turned around, lumbering noisily across the floor and into the hall. There it stood motionless, looking at the three of them with a blank expression. 

  “We haven’t had to use them for as long as I can remember. Whoever invoked them was clearly frightened.” 

  “You mean it wasn’t you?” Bue said looking shocked. 

  “No young master. Which means it was either Madame Veer or Challandra. Either way we need to check they are ok” 

  “Too right!” Bue exclaimed angrily. He turned to Jared and took him by the hand, hauling him upright. “Come on, we have to help the others.” 

  Leppard looked at Jared. “Boy, can you remember how to fire a crossbow?” 

  Jared glared at him and snapped, “my name’s Jared and yes.”

   Leppard chuckled. “OK Jared. Bue, get him a bow and a pack of bolts.” 

  Bue made for a large cupboard at the back of the entrance hall and began tossing items out onto the floor. Then he reached up and with more reverence he moved to a wider cupboard next to it and opening it slowly extracted both his prize, green, patterned bow and another one. He moved back to Jared and handed him the second one. "Look after this, it’s the third best one we’ve got” he said glancing at Leppard who smiled. Jared had no doubts who had numbers one and two.  

  Leppard turned to them. “Now listen you two. The Vagthunder can’t go outside, they only protect the inside of the building. Hopefully we will drive whoever these intruders are out into the open or they will be taken. Now load your bows.”

  The soldiers outside the dorm room had scattered like leaves in the wind as soon as the creatures emerged from the walls. The leader had heard the intolerable keening noise and knew straight away that the cursed girl had lied about the building’s defences. No-one had utilised anthropomorphic defence at any time in living memory and as soon as he realised that the noise was not merely a disembodied voice designed to scare off petty thieves in the night, he’d run back down the corridor, leaving his men puzzled and deafened behind him. Now he was running for his life, his sword having been flung down as he’d rounded the first corner. He’d heard the screams of his men and those he’d sent into the boy’s dorm and now only two of them had managed to catch up. He didn’t know and had no time to care what had happened to the others. As they rounded another corner a huge lumbering shape staggered forward, roaring angrily and grabbed the middle soldier by his cloak. The man’s feet skidded out from under him and he screeched as the creature stepped back into the wall, yanking the man after him, his sword clattering to the floor. The other two didn’t spare him a backward glance but hurtled to the main doorway in front of them. As they pounded down the corridor the same monster reemerged alone but looking slightly bigger and with a piercing roar began pounding after them, malformed knees and elbows pumping like pistons. The leader realised they weren’t going to make it, the creature was gaining ground at twice the rate they were. Twisting round he grabbed the other man and shoved him into the wall, who crashed noisily as he span, colliding with the stone then stumbled, falling onto his face, his hands flung out to break his fall. He screamed, “NO!!”” and with a snarl the creature bore down on him, scooping him up; the soldier’s pitiful cries cut off abruptly. The leader raced to the doorway and barged into it heavily, the doors bursting open as he fell through and onto the steps, just as another creature hurtled out of the corridor to the left and stood on the steps, howling with its head back as the man rolled down the steps noisily and collapsed winded at the bottom. He raised himself up and painfully stood, glaring at the roaring creature, steam erupting from both its nostrils as it frustratedly stared at him, unable to follow. The man stood and dusted himself off, breathing heavily and then removed his helmet and wiped sweat from his forehead. It was Galfront Siavy. He glared at the creature and then bowed theatrically before moving away rapidly into the shadows.

  Chapter 9

   

  Jared, Bue and Leppard moved past the hulking yet still Vagthunder in the dimly lit hall, bows primed and ready. In the distance they could hear shouts and roars along with the sound of huge feet pounding the floor in a tattoo of terror.

   “Be ready and keep your mind clear,” Leppard said to Bue whose his lips were held in a straight line of determination.

   “How are we going to get into the main building?” Jared enquired. “That soldier is still out there.”

   “There’s always more than one way to get to your destination my b…Jared” Leppard replied. He had clearly dressed hurriedly once the break in had started and had his leather halberk over a loose shirt that was unbuttoned and he was shoeless. He walked to a small stack of shelves at the back of the hall and pulled it to away. Cobwebs stretched and snapped back from it as Leppard pushed it away to the side. There was a small door behind it and he took a key from his pocket. It fitted the door and with a squeak of resistance the bolt moved back as the key was turned and the door opened with a grind of wood on wood. It clearly hadn’t been opened for a very long time. Leppard took the unlit tinder he had in his hand and used it to create a burning torch by holding the material into the casing of an oil lamp burning dimly on the wall. The sputtering glow from the light revealed a set of steps that led downwards and to the right, dissapearing into darkness.

   “Old way through.” Leppard grinned. “No one’s used it for years.”

   Bue snorted. “Found the other end months ago, just couldn’t figure out how to get this door opened.”

   Leppard stared at him for a second and his eyes narrowed. “Well, young master, as you are versed in this passage’s steps, you can lead us.”

   Bue smirked and took the torch from Leppard’s hand, stepping carefully onto the first stair and moving forward. “Remem
ber to duck” he whispered to Jared as he moved downwards slowly. As they moved forward Jared could see scuttling shapes of what looked like large spiders moving away into the recesses of the walls and caught a glimpse of one the size of a crab. He shuddered. Leppard was behind them and closed the door, locking it and pocketing the key. Bue moved a large veil of webbing aside with his hand. Above them the muffled cries seemed fainter and less frequent now as if the commotion in the main building was nearing an end. 

  As they pressed on Bue turned to look over his shoulder. “Which way?” he whispered. “The left takes us to near the caretaker’s lodge. The other way brings us up to the dining room near the service hatch.”

   “Go left,” Leppard replied, motioning with his hand. They moved on, bows held in front of them. The surface of the floor was loose with bits of stone and the glow from the torch spluttered in contrast. There was a strong smell of damp in the air. Shortly they came upon another flight of steps and Leppard whispered urgently “BUE! Let me go first.” 

  Bue was about to argue but saw the look of grim severity on Leppard’s leathery face and moved back to allow the bow master to pass him. Leppard climbed the stairs quickly and went to take the key out of his pocket. 

  “You don’t need that,” Bue hissed. “Just lift the handle and pull the door up and to the left, it’ll open.” 

  Leppard smiled and placed the key back. He looked over his shoulder and down the steps at the two boys below him. “Ready? Now, let’s go but be careful.”

  Challandra had remained motionless for a few minutes as the first Vagthunder had grabbed her guard. Partly through fear as she’d never seen these beings before, despite having been told how to summon them and her awe was mixed with a sense of terror at what she’d seen. The men they had taken were gone now, merged with the building and while she felt some pity for them she reminded herself that they had come to take Jared and wouldn’t have hesitated to hurt anyone trying to stop them. Her heart hammered in her chest as she took a few deep breaths and placed one hand on the wall and tried to stand up. Just then something hit her in the lower back tumbling her forward. She whirled and stifled a scream only to see the crossbow instructor Leppard facing her with his bow pointed at her. His face creased and he lowered the weapon.

   “My apologies Miss,” he said looking slightly embarrassed. “Are you hurt?” 

  Challandra shook her head. “No. We need to check on the boys.” Just then she saw Jared’s face peering out from behind Leppard and Bue grinning at her. 

  “Well it’s good to see you two are ok,” she said with relief. “Although I see you are as always in the heart of trouble Master Bue.” 

  “Just looking out for you Miss.” Bue grinned cheekily at her and then stepped out behind Leppard, Jared following him. Leppard reached out his hand and helped Challandra to her feet. The sounds of pandemonium had now stopped, the screams gone and only a soft thudding could be heard.  

  “Someone needs to check on Madame Veer,” Bue reminded them.  

  Leppard spoke up. “Me and Jared will check on Madame, you and Miss Challandra go and see to your friends. Once you’ve checked you stay there until we come back. Clear?”

   “Crystal,” Bue said, already moving forward. Challandra followed him and he moved as if on a hunt, his bow held in his right hand in front of him and his other held slightly to his side and level with his chest, ready to signal to Challandra if he spotted anything. Leppard and Jared moved off in the other direction, moving at a brisk pace and were gone round the corner quickly.

   As Bue and Challandra reached the corridor that led to the boys’ room a huge figure lumbered into view and stood glaring at them. Bue raised his crossbow but Challandra silently pushed the weapon down. The Vagthunder looked lost, like its purpose had ceased to be and its shoulders drooped as it looked away. Challandra took a deep breath and walked up to the huge figure as it turned slowly to look at her, the sound of its breathing the only thing they could hear in the corridor.  

  Swallowing hard, Challandra reached out and raised her hand and touched the huge creature gently on its chest. It felt cold. “Thank you,” she said quietly, her voice cracking and then swallowed again before whispering. “Emco falhalain merhumkree.” The creature sighed heavily and without hesitation turned and walked forwards into the nearest wall. The wall rippled to accept it and then was solid stone, the Vagthunder vanished.

   Bue looked scared, his crossbow quivering, then he recovered and Challandra smiled. “They have all returned now. If there were any soldiers left in the building they would have found them.”

   “There was one in the practice hall…” Bue began but Challandra interrupted him.  

  “Gone too. That spell sent them back, it’s clear now.”

   They moved to the door of the boys’ room and opened it. Bue kept his crossbow levelled as he entered but lowered it as he saw the grinning face of Makeo staring at him from besides Jared’s bed, the window now closed.

   “Alright there Sharpeye?” The boy beamed brightly “didn’t get caught by the monsters then?”

   Bue grinned and stepped forward, placing his bow on Jared’s bed and briefly hugging his friend, then stepping back. He turned to face the rest of the boys. One or two were still in bed, their eyes frightened. The smallest boy was sitting up shivering, the sheets drawn up to his chin and tears streaming down his face. Challandra moved and sat down, putting her arms around his tiny shoulders and drawing him to her. “Shhh..it’s alright,” she soothed, and stroked the frightened boy’s head. He put his face into her chest and sobbed quietly. 

  The others seemed ok and Bue made a mental note that everyone was there. “No one hurt?” he asked Makeo.

   “Nope, those things dealt with the soldiers. Just what WERE they?” 

  “Vagthunder,” Challandra said from the boy’s bed, gently rocking the crying child in her arms. “They are a final line of defense against intrusion to this place. I never thought we’d have to use them. The last time was before I was born.”

   The boy smiled brightly and clapped Bue on the arm. “Still, glad you made it.” 

  “What happened to the soldier who got out the window?” Bue asked peering through the foggy diamond shaped patterns in the glass. 

  “Took off just after Master Leppard took a shot at him.” The boy chuckled. 

  “I need to check on Madame Veer with the new boy.” Bue said, hoiking his backpack into a more comfortable position on his shoulder.  

  Challandra sat up quickly. “No, you were told to wait! We still don’t know if anybody else is in the building.” 

  “With those things out there? They didn’t mess about.”

   Challandra decided to appeal to Bue’s sense of reason. “They’ve gone Bue and look, if you wander off then Leppard may have to come and look for you, meaning that there will be more problems until he finds you. Just wait here like we said.”

   Bue mused on this for a moment then decided. “Fair enough,” he said, sitting down on the nearest bed. “But if they’re not back very soon I’m going after them.”

  Jared and Leppard rounded the corners cautiously. There was one of the huge creatures in the corridor but, as if reacting to some secret signal, it had ignored them and then walked into the nearest wall and disappeared. The corridor’s torches cast a flickering, yellow glow on the walls and Jared was struck by the almost complete silence in the building, after the chaos of only a few minutes ago.

   “We need to check her office first” Leppard whispered and motioned to Jared to stay behind him. Jared moved quietly back to a position at Leppard’s left so he could still fire his bow if anyone or anything tried to attack them. 

  As they moved forward a voice suddenly said. “There’s no need for that.” 

  They span round to find Madame Veer behind them, her grey hair undone from its tight bun and spilling over her shoulder. She was in a red night dress and held a thin jewelled sword in her hands. 
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  Leppard lowered his bow and exhaled heavily. “Ma’am. I’m so glad you’re safe. Is anyone else hurt?”

   “They knocked me out,” she replied, stepping forward from the shadows to reveal a small cut on her forehead. “Who summoned the Vagthunder?” 

  “You mean it wasn’t you?” Leppard said, his eyes widening. “It must have been Challandra then.” 

  “The girl has presence of mind in a crisis” Madame Veer replied. She placed the sword against the wall, tip down and sat on a chair outside her office. The one usually reserved for errant pupils waiting to face her wrath. 

  “I feel woozy. Young man, can you take the small black bag from my office and hand it to me.”

   Leppard moved off down the corridor towards the lodge. Jared glanced worryingly at Madame Veer and then moved, remembering to hold his bow out in front of him as he swung the door open. He glanced around the office from the sputtering light in the hall and spied a small leather bag by the large desk. He bent down to pick it up and then returned outside where the stern principal sat holding her head. She smiled weakly and took the bag from him.

   “Thank you Jared,” she said before opening it and removing a glass phial. It was like a diamond in shape but contained a dark orange liquid. She removed the tiny cork from the top of the vessel and a smell of pineapples sprang from the neck as she passed it to him. It trembled slightly in his hand.

   “Now put one drop only on my cut Jared, please be careful you do not use more.” 

  Jared raised the glass cautiously and looked at the wound on her head.

   “But the cut’s big, it won’t be enough,” Jared pointed out.

 
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