Broken Rule | Chapter 48

in fiction •  6 months ago

This post is chapter forty-eight of my not-previously-published epic fantasy novel Broken Rule, which I'm serializing here on Steemit.

The story so far:
Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47


Arturo tried to duck behind the table when the knight offered his ultimatum, but Walther waved his hands and the table flew across the room into the baron's men, knocking several of them to the floor. Arturo looked on in horror as more men came in behind the baron, two or three dozen. What madness had seized them, to demand that Arturo and the others submit to that tiny monstrosity? Arturo felt an urge to retch from merely looking at it, yet the baron and the soldiers seemed utterly devoted. Couldn't they see what it was?

Petro, bless him, seemed to take his employment very seriously and interposed himself between Joszua and the wizards, his huge axe at the ready. Walther had fled across the room to the stacks and was now using his power to fling books at the advancing soldiers. Ancient tomes filled with unimaginable power, reduced to mere projectiles. Orso was still locked in whatever paralysis Walther had imposed on him. The Tarkannan wizard, Jonas, had dropped to his hands and knees like Arturo and was now crawling away to the side of the library, presumably to get away from the battle as quickly and quietly as possible. Arturo crawled after him, although the chairs he kept bumping into repeatedly betrayed the stealth he was trying to achieve.

In the center of the library, Joszua and Petro faced off against each other. Joszua, poised and elegant, was the very picture of training and discipline. Petro, wild and brutal, a picture of naked aggression and a low cunning born of years of practical experience fighting both for sport and for pay. Petro tried a savage overhand swing. Joszua caught the axe's blade on his sword, deflecting the blow but shaken by the force it took to do so. Even rattled, Joszua saw that Petro had left himself open with his wild swing and brought his sword up. The blow should have taken the big man in the heart, but Petro spun away from the attack. And, as he spun, he held out his axe and delivered a vicious sideways chop into Joszua's torso. The blade sunk into the meat of Joszua's body like it wasn't there, and split his spine like a sapling. Joszua fell to the ground, and Petro returned to his fighting stance, holding up his axe, ready for the rest of Joszua's men to advance.

That's when the rest of the goblins came. Some leaped over the tables and chairs of the library, some crawled underneath. Some ran on all fours, like dogs, others hobbled along like the crippled beggars that Orso so often tended. They all converged on Petro. The first few were cut neatly in half by Petro's axe, but he couldn't move fast enough to keep all of them off. Once they got past his defense and grabbed hold of him, the nature of the fight changed. Punching, grabbing, biting, slashing, the goblins crawled all over Petro, doing anything they could to hurt him. He struggled valiantly, swatting them away with all his mighty strength, but eventually even he succumbed to the vicious onslaught. He fell to the ground and the goblins shouted, glee evident even in their twisted little voices.

Arturo looked back and saw that the men Walther had been pummeling with books had replied with projectiles of their own. Three arrows stuck out from his chest. He was using his magic to stop more from speeding toward him, but there were too many for him to stop all of them. Another got through, then two more. Walther dropped to his knees, still trying to use magic to keep the arrows at bay, but fighting a losing battle.

As Walther's lifeblood slipped away, the spell he had cast on Orso was weakening. Orso was trying to walk, but slowly, like he was wading through a pool of molasses. In the commotion, Jonas's quiet escape had nearly succeeded. The Tarkannan wizard was nearly at the door of the library. Arturo looked back and forth between Jonas and Orso. Duty or freedom? Friendship or cowardice? He closed his eyes tightly, cursed himself, and then stood up and took off at a dead sprint toward Jonas and the open door.

As Arturo got to the top of the improvised stairs dug into the wall of the library's pit, he saw Jonas not twenty yards away on his hands and knees, facing away from the excavation. Arturo didn't dare look back, but knew that someone or something would be hot on his heels. “Run, you fool!” he shouted, but Jonas had other ideas. The ground underneath Arturo softened, like fine sand. His wild sprint turned into an inelegant stomp as his feet started sinking into the ground. He chanced a glance behind him and saw that the sides of the pit had already collapsed, nearly filling the library doors behind him. Hands were scrabbling at the doorway, trying to dig their way through. He heard a strange rushing sound and looked up. Half the mountainside behind the library had turned to sand as well, and was sliding down toward them like a wave. “Run!” Arturo screamed, scrambling forward for all he was worth. He thumped past Jonas who finally looked around to see what his earth magic had wrought, and he joined Arturo in the mad dash for safety.

The abject terror that Arturo had felt in the library had subsided, and he now felt only a more generalized dread. The landslide Jonas had used to bury the library had also scared the horses, who fled in panic with most of the supplies. The coach Jonas had taken from Kubara was flipped on its side and smashed. Arturo had left his pack inside the library. Arturo had no appetite right now, but how long could they last without food?

“Do you have any idea about what we should do next?” asked Arturo.

“I think we should make our way to Thornwood. My apprentice should be there, and I suspect we'll find a warmer welcome there than in Kubara. Benedek is bound to be angry about Joszua's fate, and there's no need for you to get caught up in any of this.”

“Thank you, but why should you care about my wellbeing? I very nearly got you enmeshed in Walther's plot.”

Jonas seemed to ponder that for a moment. Had he been inclined to join the conspiracy after all? “We're both wizards,” he said at last. “Consider it professional courtesy.”

“Speaking of wizardry, can you account for what happened to Baron Joszua and those other men? Even in the War of Despair, they never had magic to control men's minds, but they seemed enthralled by the goblins”

“I don't know. It is troubling. But at least it's buried now, whatever it was.”

“With Walther and Orso.” That part of it stung deeply. They would still be safe back in Torzano if Arturo hadn't gotten them involved.

“I'm sorry about that, but I didn't see any alternative.”

“No, I wasn't criticizing. Merely lamenting. Orso was a good friend. He would never have been there if not for me.”

Jonas didn't seem to have a response for that and switched the subject back to their course. “I only have a general idea about where Thornwood is from here, but at least it ought to be downhill most of the way.” Jonas began walking, limping slightly. Arturo followed.

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