The catastrophe of the e.., p.21
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.21

           LR Manley
 
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  “What are they planning to do exactly?” a man further down the table asked. 

  “They failed to assassinate, now they will try to bring her here. If they can bring her through and trap or kill her then her power and the power we rely on will be snuffed out like a candle. Anghofio can invade as we will have no time to find a new monarch. The usual interim for changeover will not happen and we will be defenceless.”

   There were gasps of astonishment around the table and then someone else spoke. “But Takoba, surely if they bring the Queen here she will be able to help us.” 

  “No! They are fully aware now of her fragile state and will trap her the moment she appears. I am sure you are all aware that the only reason we never tried this method ourselves is that we knew something was terribly wrong. Any attempts to forcibly bring her here might end her life.”

   Lighvoor spoke up. “The Queen’s Sword is correct,” he said. “Any attempt to bring the Queen here when she is so badly hurt may cause her permanent or fatal injury. She needs to come to Alegria aware of who and what she is, not wrenched here against her will.”

   Mordalayn continued. “The summons is used when her presence is needed urgently. There has been no problem with this before…but Anghofio know that by activating it now they will possibly force her here with devastating results.”

  He looked once more around the table and then to Jared before speaking again.

   "I was at her side here when she was hurt. She was frightened, didn't know what was happening and as I reached out to her she faded away in front of me. This council took over as she had planned but Our Lady is in a limbo between three worlds. The normal dreaming world, her waking world and this one. Until she is returned to health we are incredibly vulnerable.” 

  “Doorways exist all over both worlds, linking them. Anyone with the power and knowledge may use them. Luckily very few people have the tools to do so or the magic to make them work. All are inactive now as a precaution in this terrible time.” 

  “Prime Guardian Jacoban is missing.” Mordalayn indicated an empty chair. “This in itself indicates that the plot may have already been initiated.” 

  Degrezen spoke again, his nose twitching. “Whatever you need Takoba, the council will grant you.” There were further murmurs, this time of approval from the assembled councillors.  

  “I myself do not know how to access the portal,” Mordalayn said. “I need you to grant me the right to do that. I need you to tell me where the inner sanctum is.” 

  There was an uncomfortable silence and then a woman spoke up. “Takoba we don’t know either. It was always assumed that as Our Lady’s sword you were given all knowledge she had.” 

  Mordalayn stared at her in disbelief. “Power corrupts. I know more than many but there are some things even I was not told. Do you mean that only the priesthood know where the sanctum is?”

   There was another long silence and the woman looked away. “I am sorry Takoba, neither us nor our ancestors ever expected such a catastrophe as this.” 

  Mordalayn looked at the empty Prime Guardian’s chair and then around the table again. “So much power with no power to fall back on” he said quietly and in the empty, hollow silence that followed there was suddenly a high keening noise of a trumpet being blown, loud and long. A two tone blast of a short and then long note that made everyone in the room look up in shock. After a pause the same two tones were repeated and then again and again.

   “What’s that?” Jared said looking from the astonished faces of the councillors to the stone hard one of Mordalayn.

   “The invasion warning” he said grimly. “Alegria is under attack.” He turned to the councillors. “You know the protocols, lock yourselves down in your quarters, bar the doors with the spell of stronghold…and Our Lady be with all of us.” 

  They all stood up and without hesitation made for the vast door, running as fast as they could.

  Chapter 30

   

  Mordalayn pounded across the vast, round, main hall of the palace as the trumpets sounded. Around him people were scattering like leaves on the wind. The Alegrian guards were trained for such an event as this but as they surged to the main entrance they were bewildered and scared. For hundreds of years the trumpets had only been sounded for ceremonial events or drills. Some were pulling helmets and breast plates on as they assembled in the forecourt beyond the doorway to the main hall. Many thought this was another practice run and were laughing nervously amongst themselves. 

  Jared and Bue, with Kloee flying frantically alongside them, ran after Mordalayn who had reached the main set of men, roughly two hundred in all. “Where’s your captain?” he bellowed over the din of the keening trumpets. 

  “Other side of the bridge sir,” the nearest man said pointing as a small group of riders could be seen galloping towards them in the far distance. 

  Mordalayn glanced at the man and noticed his scabbard was empty. “Your sword! Where is it?” he snapped and the man blanched in embarrassment. 

  “Err…it was damaged sir, still with the swordsmith,” he stammered back, looking away and blushing. 

  Mordalayn stared at him in disbelief and then shoved him away and looked to Jared and Bue as they ran up, Kloee hovering over Jared’s shoulder. 

  “You two stay in the main hall out of sight,” he snapped then a bright light began to emanate from high above and he turned in shock to the huge tower above them. The vast, multi faceted crystal in the tower was starting to glow. High in the sky the clouds were moving, becoming grey then black as they swirled and merged then broke and merged again above the huge pointed spire. Lightning began to flash in tiny bursts on to the tower’s needle point. Mordalayn looked dismayed as the tip began to glow then fade. The crystal pulsed bright white, then green then faded again.

   “Our Lady! They have activated the signal!” he shouted and looked on in horror as the crystal continued to pulse and the trumpets continued to sound.

  Chapter 31

   

  Miles away King James sat in a field with his most trusted guards around him. He trained his telescope over the towers of Alegria castle and whistled merrily to himself. He could hear the distant peeling of the trumpets, a beautiful sound that had started the moment his troops had cleared the ground and begun the march across the open plains leading to Alegria. As they had pounded through the villages on the outskirts of the city the terrified residents had fled indoors, slamming their hatches and barricading themselves in their homes. Alegria had not faced invasion in hundreds of years and the population were petrified. Over a thousand of the Anghofian army had marched with their king, the elite of his troops, the King’s Daggers, and all were proud to be there that day. A day their children and grandchildren would tell wide eyed stories about in years to come. The drummers had beat the marching rhythm for them and every thirty second step they would hit double beats on their drums. Then the whole legion would raise their right fists in the air and shout as one, “KING JAMES”, the sound carrying for miles. 

  Now the king sat and looked at the distant castle and then turned to his nearest aide. The man leaned in instantly with a whispered question. “Your majesty?” 

  “Send in the Glavers, I want them to know how serious we are,” he said amiably and the man nodded and turned to another soldier further back. 

  “Order the Glavers to attack!” he shouted and the man ran back to the main body of armed men. 

  “Now for some entertainment” King James said grinning as he again raised his telescope to view the palace before him.

  Mordalayn saw the riders jolt to a stop at the foot of the marble steps and run up them two at a time. 

  The captain looked at him, winded from the sudden exertion and panting. “About a thousand men Takoba,” he gasped. “About two miles hence,” pointing over his shoulder. 

  Mordalayn looked grim. “Take half of these men and secure the bridge entrance, the rest can stay here with m
e.” He turned to the swordless man and said with a sneer. “As you are unable to fight you can run. Go and find as many soldiers as you can who are in the building and tell them I want them here now.” 

  The man bowed fearfully, and then ran off into the palace. The captain had separated half the group of men and was now running back down the staircase with them. He mounted his horse and signalled the other two riders and they galloped back to the bridge, the group of soldiers following them at a fast run.

   “What can we do?” Jared asked and Mordalayn turned to him and put his hand on his shoulder. “There is a secret room behind the main throne room. It is where the queen appears. They will almost certainly try and trap her there in case she gains power once she is through. The door is directly behind the throne. Push the left eye of the statue of the bird above the throne to open it.”

   Jared winced as the men around him scrambled to try and form some semblance of order amongst themselves. Above them the crystal still pulsed into light and then dark again, the lightning far above flashing intermittently, thunder cracking loudly.  

  Mordalayn stared at him and spoke clearly. “No Alegrian can help her until she is here, but as you are of her world you may be able to stop this somehow.” 

  Jared suddenly saw shapes flitting in the sky and his stomach turned. He pointed up. “Isn’t that…?” he said and saw Mordalayn turn and then look back in dismay.  

  “Glavers!” he hissed the words. The hover boards of the cackling creatures that had attacked Jared at the airport were in the distance but this time there were dozens of them. 

  The shapes flitted back and forth in the sky above the far end of the vast bridge and Bue gasped. “They’re going for the soldiers!”

   

  Jared stared in terror as the weaving shapes crisscrossed and then, like an evil swarm of bees, dived down onto the group of running men. The trumpets were still sounding loudly and then ceased. As the soldiers at the palace doors watched helpless, the Glavers tore into the men and one by one they were lifted up, screaming and then dropped over the yawning chasm either side of the bridge. The three men on horses fared better at first but then the Glavers attacked two at a time and wrenched the men out of their saddles and out over the edge. The panicked horses bolted, two back to the palace and the other out and away over the bridge and to the road beyond. Two men who had both courage and skill made a valiant gesture of defiance and stood back to back, taking three or four of the swooping assassins down before they were engulfed and dragged to their deaths. 

  “It’s a massacre,” one soldier next to Jared cried out in dread.

   Within minutes it was over and the Glavers soared up in the air again and assembled in the sky above the bridge. 

  Everyone knew what was coming next. 

  Behind them the messenger came running back. With him were a handful of armoured men and they skidded to a halt. 

  “Is that it?” Mordalayn seethed at the man who blushed again.

   “There is no one else sir.” 

  “Seal the palace, anyone who is not able to fight is to be inside, NOW!!!” Doors and windows began shutting with bangs and thuds and the main door started to slowly close. 

  “Both of you get inside!” Mordalayn bellowed at Bue and Jared and pushed them to the vast, arched, wooden gates of the palace. As the gap got smaller Bue ran through but Jared tripped and fell, sprawling forwards and then watched fear stricken as the door closed with a loud boom.  

  Mordalayn picked him up and turned to the troops. “Assemble as close to the doorways as you can,” he yelled and started pulling men into lines. Above them the crystal continued to glow, this time brighter, and Mordalayn prayed that they could stop this. He glanced yet again up at the peak of the huge tower. The lightning was flashing faster and faster and the thunder cracked. The swarm of Glavers in the distance bobbed in the air like some flock of malignant crows and then as one began to surge towards them.  

  Jared stood next to Mordalayn and yelled loudly. “What can I do now?” 

   “JUST GO!!!” Mordalayn roared back as the black spindly shapes swarmed towards them cackling loudly like a demonic choir of army ants. They merged over and through each other and as Jared stared at the vast number he could see there were at least a hundred of them. 

  “How are we going to stop them?” he shouted to Mordalayn over the din of the approaching force. 

  “Just get to the tower and stop them bringing the Queen through,” the cat man shouted back. Jared was about to argue when Mordalayn whirled and grabbed Jared by his shirt and belt and before he could say anything heaved him back and then launched him up and into the air. Jared barely had time to register what was going on before he landed with a crunch on the tiled, slanting roof above the main doorway. Winded he breathed heavily and with a start realised that he was slipping back, the loose tiles from his sudden impact coming loose and cascading back towards Mordalayn and the soldiers in a shower of red stone.

   Kloee flew up and hovered protectively next to him. She glowed again and his slide abruptly stopped, his kicking feet dislodging a few more of the tiles that crashed unnoticed amongst the men below. “Thanks,” he gasped and turned into the gentle pull of her protective light. He flung his arms out to stop the slide and with a grinding noise stuck still and then scrambled up and lunged for the window. More tiles came loose under his feet until he managed to grab the ledge and flung his hands through the open window. As he went to heave himself in he turned round. The sight was stomach-churning. Swarms of Glavers were hurtling towards them as Mordalayn drew his tri-blade. The others with him formed a ragged line against the oncoming black tidal wave of evil and Mordalayn glanced up at Jared.  

  “Go!” he shouted again. “Get to the crystal room. You are the only one who can stop this.” 

  Jared hauled with arms and pulled himself up and in. Turning he slammed the stained glass window and twisted the latch. The room he was in appeared to be some kind of observation point with only a couple of carved wooden chairs and a wide table in the middle. Making his way round the table he opened the door and looked both ways. The hallway to his right was clear and the staircase on his left was deserted. He darted up the stairs and kept to the wall as the staircase spiralled round.

  The Glavers swooped on the hundred or so men with shrieks and laughter. Unlike the bridge though, the men were so tightly packed they could not pick out targets so easily. Mordalayn leapt at a cackling figure that came too close and while still in the air side swiped his huge sword at the Glaver who tried to dodge the blow but failed. He saw two Glavers holding a struggling soldier by each arm and attempting to lift him up. He leapt at them and elbowed one out of the way and brought his blades down on the other, splitting it in half. As the frightened soldier nodded his thanks a third Glaver appeared, grabbed the man around the waist and scooped him up. It flew to the edge of the battlements and glanced over at Mordalayn. Then with an evil grin it dropped the screaming man over the edge, laughing in triumph and flying off.

   The others were swinging their swords at the Glavers who were too fast for most. Another man stepped too far from the company of his fellow men and almost instantly a grinning Glaver wrenched him up in the air before dumping him screaming over the edge.

   Mordalayn cursed and wondered how they could have let themselves sink so far into useless clumsiness as a kingdom. “Aim for their boards,” he shouted. “Cripple their boards!” As a Glaver shot by him he reached up, impossibly fast and again wrenched the figure off. The board ploughed into the closed and barred double doors of the palace entrance. It took a chunk from the oak and then split into pieces. The Glaver looked up with frightened eyes. Mordalayn snarled and threw it down before despatching it with his sword. 

  The other soldiers were losing their discipline and the tightly packed men were spreading out. Glavers weaved everywhere and men were dragged screaming up into the air. A few tried to run for the staircase but were quickly cau
ght and thrown over. Mordalayn swung his sword in powerful arcs and again and again Glavers fell to his blades. He saw a man being hauled up into the air but too far away to help. He fumbled with his belt buckle and twisted the metal catch on the side. A short, knife came free and he hurled it at the black clad monster. It caught it in the face and the monster skidded off its board, dropping the wriggling soldier and collapsing onto the floor dead. Its board clattered to the ground next to it. Wiping sweat from his brow, Mordalayn whirled and swung at two Glavers who tried to ambush him from behind. One fell and the other arced up and away shouting curses back at him. The soldiers who had retained discipline were now giving the attacking force some problems. Without as much room to manoeuvre as on the open bridge the Glavers couldn’t fly freely and had limited range of motion. Mordalayn ran at the group and shouted. “Fight back to back. It’s the only way!” 

  Some of the men heard him and began to heave together. One fell as a hover board caught him in the chin and sprawled at the head of the staircase. A Glaver managed to grab Mordalayn around the waist and he yelled in rage as the spindly, leathery arms tightened. “Got you!” the Glaver cackled but then suddenly shrieked and dropped him. Mordalayn looked around confused and saw the Glaver twitching with a crossbow bolt in its head. He glanced up and Bue saluted him from one of the narrow windows above the door. The boy had found a spot to hide and pick off the enemy at the same time. 

  The light in the crystal burned brighter and the lightning was becoming more frequent. Fear took hold of Mordalayn as he looked up and realised that unless Jared could do something the plot would work and the queen would be forced through the portal to have her life ended. Grimly he turned and again raised his sword at the buzzing swarm around him.

   

  Chapter 32

   

  Jared was panting heavily as he forced himself up the steps and rounded the corner. The throne room was deserted, the sounds of the battle at the front entrance faint in the distance. Everybody in the royal palace was either hiding or fighting. He looked for the statue on the throne and saw it straight away. A large bird of prey, like an eagle or a falcon. He ran up and was about to approach it when a familiar and grotesque shape lunged out of the shadows and stood in his path.  

 
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