The catastrophe of the e.., p.22
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       The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, p.22

           LR Manley
 
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  Skidding to a halt he was confronted by the ghastly sight of Rancidrain. He was still wearing his tattered old blue suit and held out his arms wide as Jared stuttered on his feet in front of him.

   “We-ee-ll!!” he cackled nastily. “Seems you can’t stop being nosey can you little boy?” and Jared saw he had another rainbow blade in his filthy hands but this time it was a huge curved sword, the lights playing merry colours on the wall.

   Kloee shouted in her high voice. “I’ve had enough of this. Ugly people with ugly souls!” and flew straight at Rancidrain who, caught off guard, tried to swat her with the blade but missed. His grotesque, eyeless face contorted in panic and he staggered back, tripping over the top step that led to the throne. He floundered and fell, dropping the sword on himself.

   “No!” he shrieked as the blade pierced his leg. Jared watched him glow the same rainbow colours as the sword and the shriek stretched out and then died away as Rancidrain exploded into little dots of multi-coloured light. The dots slowly drifted apart and spread out across the vast room and up to the ceiling. The sword faded and, like in the hospital, turned into a lump of rock. Jared stared at it and Kloee flew back to him as the final snatches and pieces of colour that had been Rancidrain faded away.

   “Nasty, horrid, horrid man,” she snapped. Jared ran forward and pushed the left eye of the carved bird. With a gentle swish, a panel behind the throne slid back and he ran towards it. Kloee made to follow him but he turned and shouted; “No! Mordalayn said no one from this world can come in here. I have to do this alone.” 

  She pouted angrily but flew back, looking worried and Jared stepped through, the door closing behind him.

  Chapter 33

   

  In front of him was a small room, circular in shape and with many tiny, arched windows on the side opposite the doorway. In the middle was what looked like a huge, clear, glass rose but as if someone had pinned back the petals. Above him was another crystal, a smaller version of the colossal one in the main tower. It was glowing brighter and brighter as he looked. It was directly above the trap on the floor. 

  Making his way to the huge petals he saw many spirals of what looked like thin strands of blue smoke twisting in the centre, making lazy patterns in the air. Around and between them, sparks of light flashed randomly. It was too late, she was already coming through. Panicking he tried to move the device with his foot but it was too big and heavy. As he kicked it the glass rang clear as a bell in the tiny room. Wincing as the sound hurt his ears he tried twice more, each time succeeding only in making a deafening racket. The smoke became thicker and twisted in ever more complicated patterns. It reminded him of the patterns of DNA threads that they’d showed him in Biology at school. There were flashes of crystal light in the centre of the device and they flickered like shooting stars. He glanced up and saw the crystal protruding from the ceiling, glowing like a huge diamond, impossibly bright.

   He glanced at the trap again and realised what it was. As she appeared it would close up and pin her within the petals. The smoke and sparks got more and more frequent and the crystal burned so bright. Desperately he stepped into the centre of the petals and his vision blurred, the scenery shifted and his stomach lurched. He was suddenly standing at the end of a long, ornately decorated corridor. Sophie Roberts was facing him at the other end, flowers in her hair and wearing a purple silk nightdress that moved slightly from a gentle breeze. She smiled serenely and was clearly unaware of what was going on. Behind her stood an open door and Jared glanced over her shoulder to see it led to a hospital room. Directly behind Sophie and down at an angle was Sophie again, lying in bed asleep with the green sheets pulled up to her chest. A woman sat by her bed crying and holding her hand and Jared could see what looked like a doctor with his back to him. Sophie floated towards Jared and her gaze was only on her destination, she did not see or register that he was there. Jared quickly glanced around and saw that the corridor’s walls were pulsating, first pastel shades of peach and pink and blue and then fading to become transparent, revealing a black void of eternity beyond.

   “SOPHIE!!” he yelled as loud as he could. She didn’t respond and continued towards him. Jared knew that if she came into this world she would die.

   “SOPHIE! STOP IT’S A TRAP!!” he yelled again, waving his arms frantically above his head to get her attention. Again she paid no heed. The sound of beating wings suddenly began to fill the air and Jared glanced around quickly to try and see what was making the noise. He saw nothing and his foot scraped on the floor as he positioned himself to stand in Sophie’s way. She drifted on regardless and her smile was one of peaceful joy. Jared glanced down and saw that he was standing on nothing, the floor beneath pulsating to the same rhythm of pastel shades and then invisibility as the walls.

   “SOPHIE ROBERTS!!” he screamed as loud as he could “MORDALAYN SAYS IT’S NOT SAFE!! PLEASE GO BACK, THIS IS A TRAP!!”

   With a sudden jerk of her head Sophie’s eyes snapped out of their glazed look and she stared directly at Jared. Her expression changed to one of confusion and alarm. She glanced over her shoulder at the open door to her hospital room and again back to Jared. The sound of beating wings became louder and louder. Jared screamed as loud as he could. 

  “KING JAMES BETRAYED YOU. THIS IS A TRAP! YOU HAVE TO GO BACK!!” 

  Sophie was now fully aware of what was going on and she frantically glanced around and down at her own body, the flowers in her hair tumbling to the floor and then passing through it and vanishing as the room pulsated into nothingness again. Jared looked at the walls and he could see red dots in the black infinity beyond them. As the corridor pulsed into colour and back into void again he saw they were dozens of eyes.  

  Sophie looked at Jared again and nodded in understanding, then turned and ran back down the corridor, her nightdress billowing and then she was gone, the door slamming behind her. Jared saw the corridor pulsate once more into colour and then it was gone. He was petrified, standing on an infinity of nothing, the sound of beating wings getting ever louder and the crimson eyes around him darting everywhere. Far in the distance, he saw corridors like this one. But these were gold, red, blue, silver. They faded as he stared at them.  

  Screaming in fear he suddenly fell and as his vision blurred again. He found himself sitting on the floor in the room, one of the open petals of the trap had tripped him. His heart racing he staggered to his feet and breathed slowly, trying to calm down. He glanced up and saw that the crystal was now dimmed, the brilliant light no longer glowing.

  Chapter 34

   

  Jared tried to calm down and forced himself to breathe normally. Slowly he staggered to his feet and lurched towards the windows. He looked out into the blue skies of Alegria. His heart gradually slowed down and he placed his hands on the cold stone. As he was about to turn he glanced up at the window and saw something move behind him. He ducked and whirled around as a piece of metal pipe missed his head by inches and smashed the window. He stared at the person in front of him, open mouthed.

   “M, M, Madame Veer?!!” he stuttered, not believing what he was seeing. 

  The woman glared at him as she removed the pipe from the remnants of the window and turned to face him.

   “Yes Jared. If you hadn’t got involved you wouldn’t have to die.”

   She raised the pipe and moved towards him, Jared moved back trying to get around to the door but she kept moving, keeping the trap and herself between him and his way out. 

  “Why?” Jared pleaded, perplexed and still not fully believing what was happening. 

  “Why?” she snapped. “WHY? Have you ever been in control of something and then had it taken away from you and then never, EVER been able to get it back?” 

  Jared’s mind raced. He didn’t know what she meant but ventured. “But you control the orphanage, everyone respects you there….” 

  “THE ORPHANAGE!!” she shrieked and then laughed bitterly.
The orphanage is nothing. Waifs and strays that think they have a right to be looked after.” 

  “But what…no one wanted to hurt you. Why would you try and kill Sophie?” Jared asked, glancing past her and trying to see if he could make a run for it. She sensed his intentions and shifted her body again to block him. 

  “I WAS Sophie you little imbecile!” she shrieked and Jared still stared at her confused. “Do you think a little girl could rule this place forever? Time does not stand still here. Sophie is not the first ruler of this world nor will she be the last.” 

  Jared finally realised what she was saying and realisation hit him like a hammer to the chest. 

  “But…but...YOU?!!” 

  “Yes me? Don’t look so surprised I was young once too. I left this world behind when I grew up. Time moves three times faster here and when I wanted to come back no one remembered me.. Do you know what that feels like? Can you even begin to imagine how that feels?” 

  “But Sophie is…she must have known who you were.”

   Madame Veer snorted with disdain and the pipe wavered in her hands. She glared at Jared. “That girl knew but her sweet pretence and attempts to remind me that I was now nothing were worse than if she too had no knowledge of me.” She paused and looked so sad and stared at the floor as she told her tale. “Head of an orphanage!!!” She sniffed and wiped a tear away on her sleeve, her normal fearsome facade was in tatters. “I ruled this world fairly and that was my reward? To become a headmistress for parentless brats?” 

  Jared tried to lunge past her but she raised the pipe and stood in his way again. She continued; “I’m dead in your world. I can’t go back. I have to stay here now. If you hadn’t interfered this would all have been put right. I could have ruled again, everything would have been perfect but YOU SPOILED IT.” She shrieked the last words and then lunged at Jared. Frantically he ducked under the blow she aimed with the pipe at his head and pushed her backwards. “Nasty! Interfering! Little…!” She gasped as they tussled and then her boot snagged on one of the glass petals and with a shriek of fear she fell backwards into the trap.

   Jared staggered back as her grip on him was released and as she attempted to sit up the petals suddenly all glowed a bright, buttercup yellow and silently began to rise.  

  Glancing around her in fear Madame Veer looked in horror as the trap closed in around her. “NO!!” she screamed and stood, trying to push her way through the gap between two petals but was forced back as they squeezed shut. 

  “HELP ME JARED!!” she shrieked in fear as the glass petals completely closed and with an almost inaudible “chunk” they met at the top and sealed the trap completely. 

  Madame Veer pounded on the glass and gazed imploringly at Jared. “Please, don’t let this happen.” Her voice was muffled through the glass and as Jared watched in horrified fascination, flashes of light began to appear from the bottom of the trap once again. The same thin blue tendrils of smoke rose, that he’d seen when Sophie had been coming through. They began to wind their way like plant shoots up and around Madame Veer. 

  Jared realised with shock that this trap would work equally well on Madame Veer as she had been a ruler of this world too. 

  She shrieked as the tendrils of smoke wrapped around her legs, torso and arms and strained to escape, futilely beating on the glass.

   “Jared don’t leave me like this, PLEASE!!” she pleaded. The petals began to glow brighter and Jared glanced up as they began to close in on themselves, shrinking in and becoming smaller.

   The smoke inside now completely enveloped Madame Veer and she shrieked louder as the beads of light flashed rapidly. The trap continued to shrink and, pinned by the tendrils of smoke, Madame Veer managed to wrench her head and stare at Jared one last time. Her gaze became hard again and she snarled through gritted teeth. “To the nine hells with you Jared Miller and all who live in this filthy place.” 

  Then the light inside became blindingly bright and Jared turned away. Shielding his eyes with his arm as the petals completely closed in on themselves and with a final flash of light the trap vanished. Madam Veer’s final scream of frustration, fear and rage fading away. 

  Jared waited until the light ebbed away and, with spots dancing before his eyes, he looked at the place where the trap had been and there was nothing. Just a wooden floor and a ringing in his ears from the noise.

  Chapter 35

   

  The captain saw the crystal fade out and the lightning flashes over the tower die. The clouds parted and he lowered his spy glass. He turned to the king seated beside him who was looking up expectantly. Clearing his throat he spoke levelly. “Your majesty, the trap has been activated. Our mission was a success.”

   The king held out his hand for the telescope and the captain handed it over. King James squinted through the lens and trained the view over the battlements and towers of Alegria castle. The light in the highest spire was gone. The once brilliant and seemingly eternal brightness was no more. Only a dull grey crystal where the thousand year old beacon had once burned so brightly. 

  King James chuckled to himself and then handed back the telescope to his captain who bowed then stood to attention.

   “Recall the Glavers, then send them back to Anghofio. We won’t need them now,” he said and the man moved to give the order.

   The king sat on a throne of silver and gold. Encrusted with jewels, this was the chair his ancestors had used to oversee victories and battles for many centuries. The throne was now being used for the first time in aeons and King James wanted to savour this moment. Around him stood five of his most trusted guards, with a further ten men on perimeter duty further out. The field they were in was large, dotted with huge, ancient trees. Further back was the rest of his legion. One thousand men. More than enough to subdue the impotent and naked Alegrians now that their queen was gone.

   Before him was a table, large and spread with fresh fruit, loaves of bread and a flagon of wine. Opposite him, holding a tankard in one hand sat Galfront Siavy who smiled as the king looked at him.

   “You have done well Siavy,” the king said taking a big bite from a succulent peach. Galfront bowed his head. “You will be richly rewarded for this. However, I need you for a short time longer.” Galfront kept his face impassive at this but felt a twinge of worry. The king continued. “A man with skills such as yours is needed. I am sure a man such as yourself will not begrudge a grateful king such a request.”

   Galfront’s smile did not fade but his blue eyes held the king’s gaze. “Your majesty it would of course be an honour,” he replied, running a hand across his closely cropped white hair. He knew he could not refuse the king but was uncomfortable of being right in the jaws of the Alegrians, regardless of whether the wolf was dying. An injured wolf is more dangerous he reminded himself and, like nearly everyone else, he was still shocked that their victory over Alegria had been so easy.  

  The captain returned and the king turned to him again and beckoned him forward. “Take four of my personal guard and ride to the castle. They are to be given one opportunity to surrender, unconditionally of course.” 

  “Your majesty!” the man said, saluting, clicking his heels together and then turning. He pointed to four guards and barked at them. “You four, with me!” They marched after him as he made for the horses near an apple tree.

  Chapter 36

   

  The remaining men struggled, one soldier hauling down on the legs of his brother-in-arms as the man was pulled up by two cackling Glavers. They suddenly dropped him and with no warning sped away. The others did the same and as Mordalayn despatched the shrieking Glaver trapped under his boot with a downward swing, he looked to see them all shooting off into the distance over the bridge. Glancing up he saw the crystal had dimmed and the lightning display had stopped at the peak of the tower. Swallowing hard he hoped Jared had managed to do something.

  Checking around in case the enemy regrouped Mordalayn wiped
his sword on the body of the Glaver beneath him. Where there had been a hundred or more men there were now only about forty. One man was weeping and clutching the lifeless body of his comrade. Others staggered around as if in a daze. The soldier who Mordalayn had rebuked for not having his sword was still alive, his face grimy. Mordalayn had seen the man fight bravely and he walked to him and placed his hand on the soldier’s arm.

   “You fought well,” he said and the man muttered his thanks and tried to smile, his scared eyes darting around fearfully.

   Some men were wounded and there were loud groans as their friends tried to move them. With a grinding noise the castle doors opened again and Degrezen appeared. He walked forward, the disbelief and shock evident on his face. Approaching Mordalayn he looked up at the blood spattered warrior. “Is hope lost Takoba?”

   “That I do not know general,” Mordalayn replied. The green fire burned in his eyes. They both glanced back as Jared emerged with Kloee. 

  Mordalayn moved quickly to him. “The crystal light has died,” he said, the worry evident on his face. “Did you succeed or is Our Lady gone?” 

  Jared looked at him and said. “She’s safe. I saw her. She looked at me and ran back.” 

  Mordalayn breathed a sigh of relief but the look on Jared’s face told him there was more. Jared saw it and before the Caracalic could speak Jared did. “Your traitor was Madame Veer. She ruled Alegria before Sophie.” 

  The Caracalic’s eyes widened in shock and the old man said “Veer!” in disbelief. “Is she..?” 

  “She fell into the trap meant for Sophie” Jared said and Mordalayn and the old man exchanged glances. “She’s either dead or a long way from here. She vanished and the trap with her.” 

  Mordalayn looked up at the dimmed crystal and then out towards the far fields where he knew King James’ss army was camped. 

 
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