Chapter 10 (continued)
A wave of motion went through the camp as machine parts jerked into sudden motion leaving their resting places to automatically assemble into a towering siege engine. The machine had the look of a strange beast with the body of a large cat lying down and with the upper body of a man. The thing rested on huge threads, its eyes glowing bright like miniature suns blinding all who looked at it. The fingers of the thing ended in large claws that the war machine could use to tear down walls or grab hold of the top of them. It was pockmarked by hundreds of tiny slits and portholes which could be used to shoot out of.
Nashrin was sick with horror as the presence of his father washed over him. As the siege automaton came to life everything around it was awash with the tormented presence of the former ruler of the country. The emissary tried to laugh but he had not anticipated the effect it had when one felt the silent screams of a soul that was being burned away. The soldiers on the enemy camp were becoming restless, their confused commanders trying their best to keep them in line without giving in to the panic. While the defenders were gripped by pure terror.
Prince Nashrin Nirza sank to his knees. He was overwhelmed by his fathers suffering having to use all his willpower to remain in enough control of himself so as not to run away screaming from the terrifying presence that had just appeared. While he struggled to get back up to his feet the war machine opened its mouth and wailed in the late Prince's voice: "Abandon all hope!" "You will face a fate worse than death!" "Kill yourselves before it is to late!" "Kill your children!" "Kill your old and sick!" "Spear them from this suffering." "Death is the only escape!" repeating, this and similar sentences the engine moved slowly forward. The emissary looked only slightly more pleased than terrified. While the armies commanders had to practically force the soldiers to give a feeble cheer to the advancing abomination.
Nashrin's mind collapsed, washing away his thoughts, his wishes, his principles. It collapsed until it reached the hard, unmovable core of his personality. The bit that kept him going in times of need. It was at this day that the Prince learned that this core inside of him had become hardened by his life, by his convictions, by his believes to an extent that it withstood this assault and as it endured it, it became stronger. Nashrin remembered his training at the Order of Reason, the endless hours of study mastering all the basic arts as well as delving in those deemed unsuitable for civilized men and women. He remembered who he had worked hard to become a progressive, benevolent Prince who had tempered his might with wisdom and above all knowledge.
He realized that he would not give in to fear nor to pressure. He also knew that his people, his realm needed him now more than they had ever before needed their noble lords. Nashrin knew that now it was time to act. He stood up, standing tall and proud again on top of the wall of his castle, looking down on the invaders. His eyes narrowed in fury and he leapt from the city walls, down to where the emissary and his bodyguard stood, now watching the advance of the war machine.
The emissary never knew what hit him. His brain had not quite registered the shadow that had appeared over him when he had already been parted into two halves by the princes' two handed sword. His face was still twitching as he feel apart one half of his body falling to one side, the other to the opposite. While he was still coming apart the hand of Prince Nirza darted forward grabbing his still beating heart ripping it out of his body.
There was enormous power in the life force of all thinking beings. Blood carried much of that power circulating it around the body. Nashrin now held the centre of the blood stream firmly between his hand and with it a large part of its power. He concentrated for a short moment activating the tattoos he had had inscribed into his arms and over his chest. They were made in a special crystalline ink that was usually invisible but was now flowing over with the power of the dying emissaries life force. The light this produced shone so bright that the sigils could be seen as they lit up beneath the armour the prince wore. It raced up both his arms, both sides meeting in his chest closing the summoning circle that the blood had awakened.
Nashrin did not know what would happen next. So far he had only ever experimented with his own blood only to test the feasibility of using blood as a power source for magic. Up until now he only had used small amounts. But now he drew through the heart all of the remaining life energy that had once animated the emissary into his own body. The aura of the prince almost instantly exploded in a giant blaze of energy.
The bodyguard of the emissary still turning around to see what was happened recoiled from the flaming light of Nashrin's combat aura. The prince made a quick hand-seal to give himself a boost of speed and dashed forward. The bodyguard fell. Nashrin had weaved around them in the blink of in eye his sword passing through the soldiers a hundred times with a whirring noise. As they moved the impulse of their motion tore their bodies apart and they fell to the ground in large gory chunks of flesh and metal.
This was not the time to engage an entire army al alone. No matter how powerful Nashrin felt right now. He could feel the rush of power fade away already as the life force of the dead emissary dissipated into the world at large alongside his soul. He had to hurry and he had to be smart about what to do next. The survival of his people depended on it.
First he decided he needed some space to move. So he summoned a great shock-wave of air to extinguish all the fires around him in the camp. As the light all around him flickered and died leaving only the unnatural shine of the war machine to illuminate the darkened part of the camp the soldiers started to panic. Even the ones who were professional soldiers where overcome by fear.
Nashrin sped right past all the rank and file. Most if not all of them had been pressed into service by their sovereign so that they may die for his ambitions. The prince felt no inclination to kill any of them except in self defence. What he wanted to do right now is to destroy the head of the attack. This meant killing the two kings who had banded together and getting rid of their generals.
He had an idea where he was likely to find those he sought to kill. Indeed he found the tents of the high ranking officers in exactly the spot where he had expected them. On top of a small artificial elevation at the farthest point away from the fortress. The place even had a small wooden palisade around it so that the Kings and generals did not have to see the lowly soldiers. "All the better." thought Nashrin considering how much easier his plan would be to accomplish when hidden from side. Still so fat that it was hard to follow him with the naked eye he passed inside the leaders camp leaving the guards at its gates dead before they touched the ground. He also disposed of the honour guard that stood in front of the tent where the two Kings would sit with their staff to eat as well as discuss the general strategy.
After the guards were taken care of Nashrin inscribed a circle into the very centre of encampment. Once he was done with the he cut and pried open the chests of the four soldiers, extracting their hears, one of them still quivering slightly in his hand, to pull out all the blood rife with energy that had yet to dissipate. Instead of consuming the blood bloating his aura even more, he directed it towards the summoning circle he had just made. The blood formed long tendrils extending from the bodies of the slain into the hearts and from there into the force field defined by the circle building up an slowly expanding cylinder of blood. Nashrin pricked his finger with the point of his sword, inhaling sharply when he accidentally cut in to deep. He ignored the pain, clasping his hands together once more activating the sigils inscribed on his body. He concentrated on the pulsating cylinder of blooded in front of him extending his aura towards it caring a thing filament of his blood with it. One it made contact with the cylinder he made a hand seal to stabilize the connection thus providing him with a steady stream of fresh energy.
He closed the wound in his finger readying his sword to assault the large central tent in which the generals of the army were feasting with their two kings. Nashrin considered to expand his consciousness into the tent so gauge the situation, but decided against it as he did not want to risk early discovery by one of the attendants. He did not know how powerful any of them were and at least the leader of the mercenaries was bound to be a capable warrior who would notice Nashrin's attempts of peeking.
Instead he depended on his inhuman speed and the element of surprise. Snarling he stormed into the tent sword at the ready. Enhanced by magic it took in the scene in front of him in a quarter of the time it took to blink once. There stood a long broad table in the middle of the tent. At one end sat the two kings side by side with five generals sitting to the right and six to the left. The sixth being the leader of the mercenaries. Sitting to the right of the kings the mercenary was given the highest honour achievable for a soldier for hire, the left hand side being reserved only for the most favoured of subjects. Around the table stood a number of servants attending to the men around the table as weel as a highly decorative dozen of terminally bored honour guards of unknown skill.
Nashrin decided to attack the left first. The greatest threat came from the mercenary leader. With the sword stretched out he shot towards him cutting of the heads of the five generals sitting between him and his target. By the time he severed the fifth head and the first started had past the peak of its arc on the way to the ground, the mercenary had pulled out his own sword blocking the advance of Prince Nirza.
Nashrin decided to continue more with more caution. The generals were all incompetent fighters with the honour guard obviously chosen primarily for their looks as they were still staring wide eyed at the carnage unfolding in front of them. He could disregard them. But the mercenary was already up on his feat his blade in the space Nashrin had occupied only one heart beat ago. No matter how much power he had gained through the blood being run through by a sword would still kill him like any other man. Nashrin cast a quick seal send the fountains of blood gushing out of the necks of the five dead generals into the holding field he had created.
He feinted an attack, only to be almost hit by a swarm of flying daggers cast out by the mercenary. By the time Nashrin had side stepped they the had turned into a cloud of daggers by the mercenary using his own form of combat summonings. The other five generals had now stood up, drawing their swords turning towards their attackers while the honour guard was now also rushing towards him. He had not given the guard enough credits as the ones closest to him were using summoning circles tattooed into their skin to activate their protective shell-arts while those who stood further behind where furiously casting hand seals to summon magical attacks.
But they were to slow. The guards to Nashrin's left were killed by the dagger cloud summoned by the mercenary, while those to his right could not keep up with his speed. He had moved past their defensive line before it was completely set up and had proceeded to cut of the hands of the two summoners in the back with a few quick motions. One of them ignited as the magic he was waving broke down causing a strong energy back-lash, while the other stared in disbelieve at the stumps at the end of his arms, watching his blood forming long tentacles flowing out of the tent as they were drawn into the summoning circle outside that was now itself gaining in power as it was gorged with the life force of several humans.
The mercenary did not wait for the daggers to do their work, instead him somersaulted on top of the table positioning himself between Nashrin and the two kings. Using his sword to wave a defensive pattern in front of him he started to cast strange seals using only one hand, tapping on pressure points on his upper body and head. Nashrin took advantage of the short break in the attack to kill the remaining five generals, creating a protective barrier between him and the mercenary. He boosted his speed again, speeding up his body to a point where the heat created by his movements built up to life threatening levels. If he was not careful now he would end up cooking himself. The power of the blood was such that he was quickly reaching the limits of his mortal body.
He would have to think of something. But not now.
First he had to protect himself. His sword streaked through the five remaining generals, cutting them into large chunks of meat and bone. With quick flicks of his wrist he turned them into a wall of flesh obscuring him from the sight of the mercenary. Nashrin cast a quick seal of repulsion sending the meat in front of him forward like a surging wave. He followed right behind it using it to mask his advance. The wave splashed passed the mercenary decorating him with carnage while Nashrin's sword met the mercenaries left eye and unexpected resistance.
By the time his attacker had reached him the skin of the mercenary had turned to stone. A regular blade would not cut it. Sooner would a blade break than pass through it. While Nashrin's blade came to a quivering halt a millimetre before the still vulnerable eye ball almost nicking it with the tip of the blade, the mercenary charged his weapon with power. The braziers behind him and the burning man to his left were extinguished as he drew out their power replacing fire with blossoming frost lighting up his sword with unnatural light. Now this was a weapon that could have cut even through his rock skin hardened through decades of practice and combat experience. He mercenary angled his sword towards the screaming Nashrin who was screaming in fury, his bright aura flickering like a bonfire in a storm. When he was about to silence him the mercenary felt a sudden sharp pain in his eye.
Nashrin was now drawing on the blood more and more. He used its power to withstand the heat building up in his body. His feet now leaving smouldering footprints on the table on which he stood. He used the blood to make his sense ever faster seeing the weapon of his opponent ignite and move slowly towards him. He used the blood to increase his strength further and further. He started screaming as the muscles began to rip out parts of the bone to witch his tendons were attached. He screamed as his forced his body back into health. He screamed as he consumed more and more and more blood for ever more strength, for more resilience as the other's weapon came now so close as to melt a hole into his armour. He screamed now in triumph as the metal began to peel away on the edges of his sword as he forced it past the impenetrable skin into the eye of the mercenary. Like metal shavings the erstwhile edges of his weapon began to peel away s he forced it onto the brain of the mercenary who dropped his sword moving his hands towards his face, but he died before they reached their goal.
The sword of the mercenary fell into the table, the wicked blade dissolving the wood in seconds. It feel further into the ground were it started to boil the earth around it slowly sinking away, leaving a quickly cooling scorch mark behind.
The rest was easy. Nashrin killed the surviving guards with his bare hands, leaving his ruined sword quivering in the still twitching body of the mercenary general. After he had finished the guards he stood, blazing in front of the two kings.
"You dared attack my realm, you killed my father," as he was saying this the two kings stumbled backwards from him in terror, "you DARED to put his soul in a furnace!" his voice was turning into a roar. He wanted to say more, wanted to break them, but not kill them. Wanted to take them back and make them suffer. But his thoughts were becoming overcome by his rage and hatred. He felt the blood pulsing through his body. He felt his shell-art going out of control. His teeth elongated into fangs, his nails turning into talons, while his muscles started to bulge straining against his armour. He sprang forward dismembering the two screaming men with his claws and teeth. He ripped out their hearts and ate them. He tore open their bellies and took their livers. And ate them.
Driven by his insane fury he rushed outside, taking the palisade with one leap running towards the moaning siege engine. He had to stop it. He had to silence it. The sounds it made drove him even more towards raging insanity. The few soldiers who dared oppose him were ripped apart so fast that they left blood red clouds where they had been standing foolishly standing their ground.
When the thing that had been Prince Nashrin Nirza had arrived at the siege engine and killed all of the people inside it and around it and ripped out wires and cables and broken mechanisms. It noticed that the engine was still moving. It was still crying. Still screaming in that horrible voice. The creature was furious. It killed more people in its rage but it noticed that this did nothing to stop the machine nor to sooth his fury. So it thought, while it kept raging. It had an idea. The kings. They had to know.
So it went back to the tent were it had started its rampage took the mangled bodies of the fallen kings, broke open their skulls to eat their brains. He savoured them, tasting their knowledge, the infuriating evil thoughts and at last! The way the machine worked. The way it got its power. They way it could be destroyed. Now it knew.
He felt an urge to consume more brains. But it resisted. It had to stop the machine. It had to save what it now remembered again to be his father. He rushed back into the horrible automaton. The carnage he witnessed making him feel a strange revulsion he could not quite fully grasp. With his taloned hands he ripped open armoured plates until he had uncovered the core that was powering the machine. A large metal ball containing a thick, round glass flask that held within the golden glow of a human soul. With a scream he shattered it on the floor. For a short moment he was immersed in the presence of his father. His being was all around him. He felt a wave of relieve permeating his being. Both from within himself and from what he knew was his dead fathers soul.
He also felt the surge of hunger. This was so much more powerful, so much more pure than the blood he had tasted. He lost control again and started feasting on the quickly dissipating aura around him. As he consumed the presence around him he felt how the war relief that had surrounded him was turning into cold terror. Never mind, that was just a minor distraction. As he continued gorging himself he suddenly saw his fathers face twisted in agony before his eyes. It was then that Nashrin realized what he had been doing. He instantly stopped, dropping to his knees becoming fully human again feeling dread enveloping him at the thought of what he had almost become.