Legends of Cobalt

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Shadows and Sacrifice

“We need to move.” Bucephalus pulled Phebes and me to our feet.

“We can’t just leave Wyanet,” Phebes pleaded.

“She didn’t give us a choice. She wants us to go. We can’t waste her sacrifice.” Bucephalus grabbed the collar of Katsu’s armour and pulled the whimpering hobgoblin to his snout. “Can we get around him?”

Katsu’s eyes stayed locked on the duelists in the courtyard below.

Bucephalus shook Katsu. “Answer me. How do we get past him?”

Katsu met Bucephalus’s eyes but didn’t focus on him. “Follow the wall. It leads to a stable yard and servant housing. From there you can get into the rest of the castle.”

“We can’t waste any more time. Let’s go.” Bucephalus dropped Katsu.

“Go.” Katsu bowed to us. “You know what you have to do.” He grabbed onto the wooden barricade with a shaking hand. “No one should face Ironhelm alone.” Katsu vaulted himself into the courtyard. 

Bucephalus scrambled to grab Katsu before seizing our arms. “Stop making this harder. If we’re all going to die, let’s at least bring the vampire with us.”

Bucephalus dragged and pushed Phebes and me along the wall until we rounded to the backside of the keep. Ember filled braziers shed a faint glow around the rear yard. The smell of rotting flesh poisoned the air. A sloped roof of clay tiles butted against the wall. We dropped the foot down onto the roof and crept to its edge.

Phebes wrinkled her nose. “Is this the stable yard?”

“What else would it be?” Bucephalus replied.

“I don’t smell or hear any horses.”

I dropped onto my stomach and lowered my head over the edge. Rundown stalls of viscera painted wood and mouldy hay lined the building below us.

“We’re in the right place. Do either of you see any movement?”

Shambling footsteps shifted the dirt in the yard below. Phebes and Bucephalus laid down beside me.

Phebes pointed to a brazier opposite us. “There.”

Two shadowed figures with green glowing eyes shambled past the glowing embers and blocked it from view. Every step they took moved them closer to us.

I rolled onto my side to face Bucephalus. “When they get close enough, we drop on them and take them out. Try to be as quiet as you can.”

We turned back and watched our targets shamble closer. Five minutes passed in an eternity. The guards shambled to the edge of the stable. Bucephalus pushed himself over the edge. His impact sent a spray of dust and pebbles in every direction. The guards gurgled and turned to face him. Bucephalus grabbed a helmet in each hand and bashed the guards’ heads together. The guards crumpled like their helmets. The green glow faded from their eyes.

I dropped beside Bucephalus and rummaged in the guards’ pockets. “I planned on each of us taking one.”

“Couldn’t take the risk.”

Phebes lowered herself and let go of the ledge dropping the rest of the way. She landed on her back and gasped on impact. Phebes took a few deep breaths and sat up. “Where are their horses?”

“The dead have no need for horses,” Bucephalus replied.

Phebes limped over to us. “How do you know they’re dead? I mean before you killed them. Undead?”

Bucephalus pointed to the guards’ skeletal hands. Thin strips of flesh dripped from the bones. “Also they smell like rotten meat.”

“Got it!” I pulled an iron key the size of my pinkie from a dead guard’s pouch. “Let’s go before more show up.”

We used the key to let ourselves into a steep stairway leading underground. Bucephalus walked hunched to make it to the bottom. The stairs ended at another doorway. I picked the lock and pushed the door open. A cloud of dust from a tar-black room tickled my nostrils. I pulled my sword out and cast my light spell on the blade. I wiped my nose on my sleeve as I stepped through the door.

The light from my sword threw shadows across moth-eaten lounges. A table of rotten wood bowed under the weight of long-unused cast iron cookware. A handful of doors on the outside walls lead to other areas.

“Where do we go next?” Phebes’s cloak stirred more dust into the air.

Bucephalus’s hooves clopped on the uneven stone floor. “How are we supposed to know? We were never told anything about the layout. That’s why Katsu came with us.”

“Check the doors, one of them should lead somewhere.” 

I made for a door on my right. Opening the door tossed more dust into the air and ignited a new sneezing fit. I wiped the water from my eyes and peaked into the new room. Three small pinewood coffins sat in the centre of the large damp room. A pile of smashed beds littered one corner.

“I found the stairs,” Bucephalus called from the door opposite the way we came in. “Douse your light.” He leaned through the door and looked up the stairs. “I think it’s clear, but we don’t want anyone to see us coming.”

The second set of stairs lead to a large, equally dusty, kitchen. A basket of rotten fruit hidden from view perfumed the air with a sickly sweet smell. Heavy pans dangled from a rack above a table in the middle of the kitchen. They shifted and thunked together like wind chimes. A dull orange and blue glow flickered through some of the windows high on the wall.

“There’s something in here,” I whispered to the others.

Phebes whispered back. “How do you know?”

Bucephalus nodded and made two half-circle motions with his hand while hefting his war hammer. I pulled out my sword and. The steel blade whispering against the leather scabbard sounded like thunder in the deafening silence. Bucephalus and I tiptoed around the central table. We got to the other side and prepared to strike.

A cloaked and hooded figure lunged at us with a dagger. I parried the dagger with my sword. Reflex took over. My free hand shot out and closed around the assailant’s throat. I could feel their pulse thrumming beneath my tightening grip. At the edge of my vision, Bucephalus coiled to strike.

“Wait! Stop! eet’s me!” The assailant gasped and dropped their dagger.

My grip tightened.

“Eet’s me. Eet’s Fayaad.” Fayaad yanked his hood down and pried at my fingers.

“What are you doing here?” I released my grip on the assassin’s throat.

Bucephalus grabbed Fayaad’s collar and hoisted him off the ground with a single hand. “Why did you attack us?”

“I deedn’t see Ironhelm in the cloister.” Fayaad latched onto Bucephalus’s arm. “I came to help. I thought you were guards.”

Bucephalus dropped Fayaad. “Where do we go from here?”

Fayaad pointed to a door in the back left corner of the kitchen. “That door leads to a small corridor that ends in two more doors. Take the door on the right.”

“Lead the way.” I shoved Fayaad toward the door.

Fayaad led us through the corridor into the empty great hall. Our footsteps across the hardwood floor echoed against the high ceiling. Nellie sat at the base of a tiered platform on the opposite end of the room. Three younger children played with dolls around her. An ancient man on a broad throne atop the platform watched over the children with dead eyes. Four vicious slash marks across his throat dripped blood down his chest.

Nellie watched us approach and smiled.

The story will continue, December 10th,  2020.

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Written by: Sweeney (@oceansoul316 on twitter)

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