Legends of Cobalt

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Decay

We scaled the small cliff below Masinissa’s tower house. The ghastly green beam of the lighthouse passed over our heads every few seconds. We reached the top of the cliff and hauled ourselves over the short brick wall crowning it. The four of us crouched in the bushes against the wall. The scent of wet soil and rot overpowered my senses.

“Fayaad and I will start at the top of the tower and work our way down.” Katsu pointed to the lantern room of the lighthouse. “We’ll take out the watchman up there so you two can enter the main building.”

Althaea and I nodded that we understood. Katsu tapped on Fayaad’s back and the two darted out of the bushes. I watched the two assassins pick their way across the failing garden and scamper up the side of the lighthouse. A dark figure outlined by the spinning green light shuffled around the catwalk. The two assassins slithered onto the catwalk, flanking the guard. The guard brandished a weapon at the assassin he could see. The second assassin stabbed the guard in the back and shoved them over the railing.

Althaea and I slipped from our hiding spot. We followed the stone paths to a door at the base of the tower. Two guards in full-face helms and chainmail stood on either side of the door. They carried long halberds and an axe hung at their hips. A green-flamed lantern hung on a hook above the door.

We laid bellies concealed by a thin wall of tall grasses. “Are they White Guard?” I whispered to Althaea.

“They are. Hit them quiet and hit them quick. We can’t let them raise an alarm yet.” Althaea slid her elven daggers from the scabbards on her back. “You’ve got the left. On my mark. One. Two. mark.”

I sprang from my hiding place. I charged forward and drew my sword. My sword plunged into a guards abdomen with a forward lunge. I pulled back and followed through with a heavy overhand slash. The strike cleaved through several metal rings. I trailed the slash with a spinning kick. My heel landed on the guard’s clavicle. The stutter of breaking bones vibrated through my body. Taking a deep breath, my chi flowed through my body and I unleashed another flurry of attacks. I pushed my foot through the guard’s knee. The guard moaned as his leg snapped and he fell forward. My knee thunked against the visor of their helmet. A dull pain throbbed through my leg. The guard hit the ground while I spun away. I pushed off with my other leg and slammed my sword into the guard’s spine.

“Did you need to be so excessive?” Althaea flicked the black gore from her blade. 

I pulled my sword free and wiped it on a rag tied to my belt. “You said hit them quick. I didn’t want to give them a chance to get back up.”

Althaea shrugged and put her daggers away. “The night’s not over. Try the lock, I’ll keep watch.” She turned her back to me and watched the dark garden.

I shook the door handle, the lock bolt rattled against its box. “It needs to be picked.”

“Switch me spots.”

Althaea knelt down and fiddled with the lock. An icy gust of wind off the bay shook the grasses and flickered the lantern light. The door moaned open on rusty hinges.

“We’re in.”

The smell of salt, rotting flesh and mouldy grain stormed through the open door. We covered our mouths with our hands and forced our way through the stench and hanging bodies.

“What do you think this place is?” The bile climbing from my stomach burned my throat.

Althaea wretched, “It smells like an abandoned larder.”

The door slammed shut leaving us in total darkness. I forced the chunks of my dinner back down.

“One second I can give us some light.”

“Don’t,” Althaea wretched again. “If it smells this bad, I don’t want to see it.” A strong slender hand latched onto mine. “I think I saw the door over here.” Althaea tugged me with her.

We fumbled our way through the dark room. Our hands caressed many slimy corpses and our shins uncovered several crates.

“Found it.” 

Althaea threw open the door. The stale air rushed in and pushed back some of the stench of rot. We tumbled into the kitchen gulping mouthfuls of the cleaner air.

“Do you smell that?” I whispered.

“If it’s death and vinegar, then yes.”

“No,” I took a deep breath. The ever-present scent of decay made me gag. “Incense. It’s faint, but it’s there, below everything else.”

“Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter.” Althaea pointed at a narrow staircase. “You clear this floor, I’ll do the next and meet you in the other tower.”

I left the kitchen through the service door into the dining room. Dust flitted through the air and clung to the box-littered dining table. The smell of sour meat filled the air, undercut by the growing scent of incense. I passed out of the dining room into the entry foyer. Green lamp light silhouetted a pair of guards outside the front door. The wooden floor creaked beneath my feet, but the guards didn’t move. A staircase clung to the wall of the foyer and another door stood opposite the dining room. I turned the handle and eased the door open.

A fresh wave of decaying flesh curled my nose hairs. Pale green light glittered through the cracked door. I held my breath and slipped inside. Pine boxes six to seven feet long sat in ordered rows and stacks. A spiral staircase of wrought iron poked out of the stacks of boxes near the outside wall. Green-flamed candles burned steadily on the walls. I took two more steps into the room. The flap of feathered wings startled me and I dove behind a stack of boxes.

A small vulture glided down the stairs and perched on another stack of boxes. The vulture’s head took in the room, it jumped to another stack and looked again. I watched the vulture repeat its actions four more times before it swooped back to its first stack. The vulture locked eyes with me, cawed once and flew back up the stairs.

I left my hiding spot and followed the vulture up the stairs. The staircase terminated in a library. Magic orbs of sun-bright light bumped against the ceiling. Incense smoke clouded the air and warded off the smell of rot from below. A second spiral staircase between two bookshelves ascended another floor.

I climbed the stairs. My feet made no noise on the heavy iron steps. My head rose above the next floor. A wooden catwalk circled the room halfway to the glass ceiling of the tower. Magical equipment, bubbling cauldrons and racks of spell components covered the floor. The bulky, scaly form of a lizardman hunched over a table. I inched from the stairs and hid behind a rack of drying herbs.

“You can come out. I know you’re there. My familiar sssaw you in my morgue.” The lizardman hissed. He turned and watched me emerge from my hiding spot. “I need a fresssh brain for my exsspiriment.” He patted the mound of stitched-together body parts on the table behind him.

Movement on the catwalk overhead caught my eye. “I’m not giving you anything, Masinissa.” I settled into a defensive stance.

“You act like you have a choicess.” 

Masinissa grabbed a rod off the table and muttered in the language of the arcane. A figure launched itself from the catwalk. It knocked Masinissa to the ground and rammed a blade through his skull.

The story will continue, November 12th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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