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part four.

The Castle

The entire population of Shaman hadn’t fitted onto the castle grounds since the great flood brought about by the seven curses. The children, the elderly, the weak and the indisposed were safe inside the fortified building, while every able-bodied and willing man and woman had gathered on the grounds outside. Everyone except the pirates, that was. Apparently, even potential imminent destruction by an aeons-old god-killing monster wasn’t enough to bring the outlaws and the law-abiding citizens together.

Arthur had just managed to pull himself into his horse’s saddle and was trotting along the front line, inspecting the fighters gathered there, when it happened: the great purple dome which had been protecting them for so long shattered into a million pieces.

The verb shatter did not do the event justice. A deafening groan echoed across the royal grounds, as though an invisible hand was squeezing the dome from the outside, and the air pressure seemed to spike around them. One of the men in front of Arthur clapped his hand to his nose, which had spontaneously started bleeding, and Arthur’s head suddenly started to throb as a pressure headache set in. Sharp white cracks splintered the dome, almost completely obscuring the lilac colouring, and for a second the whole thing seemed to distort as though it were inhaling, then - crash. The dome shattered with a sound like an earthquake, sending a shower of purple-white shards down to earth. Arthur just had time to cover his head with his arms before the smashed pieces of Aura’s last enchantment rained death upon her own people. Most of it bounced off his armour, and he was lucky that no large chunks hit him – luckier than some. By the time it was safe to look up again, several of the men were already lying face-first in the ground with chunks of the tinted glass-like substance sticking out of their backs, heads and limbs. The sight was sickening, but not nearly as bad as what greeted them from the sky.

It was difficult to see at all, and impossible to look at directly: a shadow darting about in the sky, whipping the clouds as it passed. Whatever it was, it had no substance. The final piece of the dome clattered to the ground in front of Arthur’s horse, sending a shockwave across the earth. There was a flicker of blue light, and something large and blindingly bright seemed to erupt from the soil where the shard had touched it. Arthur blinked a few times to force his eyes to adjust, before looking back up at the sky. Hovering above his army, a glowing, silver-and-blue star symbol was radiating a soft glow which resembled moonlight.

Mordred, Mace, Allianah, Rhaegar and Xephyr, who had all followed Arthur’s progress, were staring at it too with mixed expressions. Allianah sucked in her breath.

“Aura’s mark,” she muttered. “It’s a warning to the enemies of Shaman that if they mess with this land or its people, then they mess with her. I wonder what other enchantments she left behind.”

The light show was impressive, but it clearly had no power; the darkness passed through it as though it didn’t even exist and began to descend gradually, as though it knew it had won and was taking its time. Behind it, a wave of sheer terror rode the air to greet the Shamanites: demons, monsters, and fearsome forces of every calibre. Incredibly, that wasn’t even the worst part.

Their magic was gone.

They had all felt it the minute the darkness had descended beyond the star – as if their breaths had been sucked out of them. Judging by the way every man and woman were exchanging stunned looks, they had all been affected. Arthur reached for his powers, searching for something – anything – and found nothing but absence where his magic should lie. A scream went up from somewhere amongst the army. He wheeled his horse around to see that things had gone from bad to worse.

People from across the field were being sucked upwards towards a black, swirling mass which reminded Arthur of a rip in space and time. Not everyone was being pulled into the void - not even most - but enough. When he looked beyond the army out towards the rest of Shaman, he could see specks which indicated other people being sucked into the void as well.

He barely had time to register what was happening before the forces of darkness hit. The first line, shocked into sluggishness, made easy pickings for the hoard of screeching demons which tore them apart with little resistance. The second line shook themselves off and surged forward, banging their weapons on their shields and yelling, which threw the opposing forces into disarray. The royal army charged forward as one, breaking the enemy line, while the untrained, able-bodied men behind them picked off any monster which made it behind the line of offence. Arthur slashed at a serpopard which had landed beside him, decapitating it, and wheeled his horse around. His heart almost stopped. The sheet of darkness had flown straight over the clashing armies and had passed through the walls of the castle, where Nimueh, Tristan, and half the population of Shaman were.

Without hesitation, the king urged his horse into a gallop back towards the castle, ruthlessly hacking the life from any misfortunate enemy which made the mistake of trying to block his path. At the castle entrance, he didn’t even pull his horse into a stop. He leapt off, hitting the ground with a roll, burst through the heavy wooden doors and charged down the entrance hall. Where…? The creature had entered at a higher level, of that he was sure; he needed to get upstairs. The quickest route from here was the flight of stairs in the corridor beyond the throne room. Arthur put his head down and ploughed down the corridor, thrust open the doors and skidded to a halt. With his breath short and sharp, and adrenaline pumping through his veins, his stone grey eyes locked onto the impossible scene before him with disbelief.

There, sat on the formerly empty throne, was Queen Lilith.

Written by Georgia.

    • part five. -
    • part six. -
    • part seven. -
    • part eight. -
    • part nine. -
    • part ten. -
    • epilogue. -

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