Mick's Rejects

The fiction no one wanted


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THE CHAMPIONS OF NUSALLE – Chapter 11 – part – 10

“Who are you?” Moxatol queried from the street, as the column went around her.

“I am Civa.” He shrugged. “Some call me the “Cat man,” or the ‘Hero of Caliet!”‘

“I am Moxatol. Could we converse face to face?”

“Alas I would, but I fear you are a sorceress of some prowess,” Civa said in mock regret. “Besides, by the time you negotiate the stairs and reach me, I would be several rooftops away and out of sight.”

“I have other ways,” Moxatol assured him, clanging her arms together, instantly covering them in flames.

Curiosity compelled Civa to watch as she ran avoiding the door altogether and leaping at the wall. Her fists pounding into the stone face, spraying chips. She reached up, her feet already dangling a metre above the street and attacked the wall again. In rapid succession, she scaled the wall at jogging pace, compelling Civa to run to the opposite side of the roof and leap for a clothesline strung across the street.

“Oh Civa,” Moxatol cooed.

She stood on the balcony of the fire damaged building, smiling at him, a ball of fire generating in the palm of her hand.

He arched his body up and let go at the apex of his swing. Heat whooshed past his head as he somersaulted onto the opposite balcony. The moment his feet touched down, he dived through the open window and rolled to his feet. To his horror, Moxatol dangled half way across the street by one fiery hand on the clothesline. He looked for something to cut the cord, when another fire ball swelled in her free hand, compelling him to close the shutters. About to put the bar in place, they shattered, knocking him from his feet. The shutters took the brunt of the fireball, stinging his flesh in at least a dozen different places, sending him onto a single bed. He rolled to the floor and gasped as the sorceress alighted on the balcony.

Her irises narrowed into slits. “Your doom is upon you, Civa.”

Both ran for the opposite window. Civa sprang from the sill, able to feel the sting of stone chips against his calf. In mid air, he twisted able to catch hold of a shop’s shingle. A gouge showed in the sill where Moxatol had slammed her fist, missing him. Fire swelled and spat his way. He leapt laterally, just prior to the shingle shattering. Kicking from the wall, he pirouetted, angling his fall for the slope of a canvass shop stall. It sank under his weight, but held, allowing him to slide to the street. Another fire ball imploded the awning behind him as he sprinted along the thoroughfare.

“Do you think to actually flee from me?” Moxatol called after him.

It disturbed him that her voice carried from street level. He risked a glance behind himself. The elegantly clad lady sprinted as fast as any young man, and gained on him. To run from her on the ground was clearly a mistake; altitude meant safety. He had to climb again, as high and as quickly as possible.

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THE CHAMPIONS OF NUSALLE – Chapter 11 – part – 9

Civa raced across another roof top and vaulted onto a balcony rail. In a crouch, he peered into the street. People ran screaming in all directions, some looting merchants’ residences. Women shrieked, cornered into lanes by devious men. It pained him that he couldn’t save them all. Amidst their panicked cries, he could only discern a single word, “Vindavians!” He cursed himself for keeping vigil over the southern gates for any sign of the marauders. It left him totally oblivious to the plight of the western gate.

Down the other end of the main highway, came a mounted column in a direct route for…? He cast a glance aside, taking in the Hall of Heroes just beyond the city limits.

Why there?

Pandemonium summoned a new terror for the denizens of Caliet; not in the threat of the southmen’s swords. From various grates in every possible lane, the lepers climbed onto paved roads. With order shattered, they clubbed and dragged their away their prey with immunity.

Where is the king?

Blue River Guardsmen would have secured his safety. Whatever the reason, the Vindavians were headed to the great hall. He could never stop them, but he could slow their progress. In a series of leaps, twists, and bounds, he gained the roofs overlooking the column. A tall blond man rode at the lead, accompanied with an auburn haired beauty and a robed Soravian man. Three buildings ahead stood the charred remains of a semi-burnt out structure. Sturdy roped derricks containing blocks implied its reconstruction.

He leaped from a balcony rail across the street, catching hold of an opposite rail. Kicking, he arced up and vaulted over, wading into the ashen remains. Originally he had planned to swing the derrick over the column and release its load. On climbing through the gap in the roof, he noticed the blackened chimney kinked, cracked, just above the tiles. Using the blocks, he may or may not miss the trio in the lead, but the chimney was a certainty. He placed his back against its flat face and straightened his legs, all the while, peering around the side.

Twenty paces away and coming nearer, the column trudged on. The chimney creaked, about to overbalance, when his strength faded, allowing the structure to come to rest in its original position. Taking a deep breath, he dived onto his hands and kicked back with both feet. They stamped hard, rocking the chimney. Legs strained with the effort of straightening, then slowly, the structure fell away. He twisted and landed on his feet to watch its path.

Shouts of warning came from further down the column. Ashen faces looked up at their impending doom, as the woman smiled?

Bricks shattered around her and her companions without effect. Civa stared in disbelief as the woman continued to smile at him.

Her tall companion brushed off his cape and breastplate. “Go around that!” he rasped at the column.

Moxatol nodded in Civa’s direction. “And what of him, Natas, my love?”

“Destroy the fool. No doubt he is another of Nusalle’s cursed champions. Black Eagles, with me!”

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THE CHAMPIONS OF NUSALLE – Chapter 11 – part – 8

“Give us your king’s head, and we will let you live Nusallean,” mocked one of the Eagles.

Men broke into laughter. Kija pulled back his axe for a mighty swing. He struck the vase, almost jarring the weapon from his hands. Like a bell it tolled, leaning over and hovering on its edge. Southmen’s eyes widened in horror as it slowly overturned, picking up momentum. Shouts of panic arose as it clanged loudly onto the first of the stairs and bounded in its descent. It collected the last of the men fleeing for safety as Kija turned, fleeing for one of the bed chambers. He would have liked to have witness his handiwork, but predicted a fast recovery from the marauders. They came, their stampeding feet echoing along the mezzanine tiles after him. Pushing open a door he bolted through the room and vaulted onto the window sill. Perched for a moment, he wondered if he could make the leap to the vine covered lattice.

He dropped his axe and dived as the first of the Vindavians entered the room. His hooked fingers tried to find wooden gaps within the leaves. They did, and snapped. More broke to the jeers from the window as he desperately scrabbled for a hand hold. Every now and again, he’d catch hold, only to break away again, at best, doing nothing but slowing his fall. Just above the first floor, the lattice broke again, spilling him onto the path beneath the rear alcove. He gritted his teeth against the pain in his high and swept up his axe, limping into the centre of the courtyard.

A small staircase descended into a tunnel, paved and walled with sandstone blocks. It gaped from the lawn where the fountain should have been. Almost tripping, he descended the stairs and pulled on an iron brazier, lowering the fountain and closing off the stairs. By the time the southmen learned how to open the tunnel, he would have escaped. With no light immediately apparent, he pressed his hand against the wall and moved ahead, soon finding the rear exit beyond the palace limits.

Spatters of conversations came to him in the gloom. He recognised the voices as the king and queen’s escort. When he ascended into the stables, Mick’s group all waited on horses with many others saddled.

“It is Devra Kija!” one of the Guardsmen announced.

“Are there more with you, Devra?” Mick asked.

“No, but we will still need the extra horses.” He struggled to set his stiffened leg into the stirrup, let alone rise into the saddle. Guardsmen attempted to offer assisting hands, only for him to shrug them off.

“Here is my plan,” he said, lowering himself into the saddle. “As you know, Caliet has fallen. We few are all that are left of the palace guard, so we will ride to the Hall of Heroes. A dozen more Guardsmen are stationed there. We will reinforce ourselves with them and ride south. If any Vindavian contingents block our way, then it is up to us to create a fighting wedge so that the king and queen may get through.”

“Get through?” Olleton asked.

“Aye, my King; ride as hard as you can for the Pentraca river. There the army will protect you.”

***

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THE CHAMPIONS OF NUSALLE – Chapter 11 – part – 7

“What would you have us do?” asked Olleton.

“Take the queen and use the secret passage in the rear gardens. You know where it leads, my King. When you exit at the Guardsmen’s stables, saddle horses for yourselves and us.”

Palaces doors wedged with Guardsmen’s axes, jolted.

“What will you do?” Olleton asked.

“We will hold them here for as long as we can, then follow.”

The doors thundered again.

“Guardsman Mick, you will take six others with you to escort the king and queen.”

The guardsman slapped his sceptre and asked for volunteers. Kija tightened the grip on his haft as they left. Soon after, the doors, bowed, groaned and cracked open. A torrent of Black Eagles spilled into the throne room, possibly sixty, by his estimation.

He backed up the first of the stairs. “Sell your lives dearly if you must, but do not let them reach the royal chamber!”

The Vindavian horde diverted to the Guardsmen by the stairs with swords drawn. Nusalleans stood four abreast of each other in the deadly exchange with the Vindavian elite.

“Back up!” Kija ordered.

A few of the Blue River Guardsmen fell as they retreated two steps. Immediately after, his men retaliated, felling some of their foes.

“More,” Kija demanded.

The southmen funnelled into the narrow lane provided by the Nusalleans. Southmen died in the tactic at a rate of two to one, but Kija’s men steadily fell on their retreat. Driven on by the promise of victory, the Black Eagles pushed forward, faster than the Nusalleans could retreat. Kija watched his wedge collapse, swiftly growing smaller. The new recruits had fallen first; that he expected, but Veremaz still remained by his left side, while Liwil fought on at his right.

“Veremaz.”

“Aye, Devra,” he replied, delivering an upward arc into an overzealous Black Eagle.

“You have remained true to the heroics which called you here. If I had a son, I wish he were like you.”

Veremaz smiled. “Thank you, Devra.”

A squawk alerted Kija to a slash on Liwil. The Guardsmen dropped his axe, falling forward into three blades, leaving Veremaz and Kija alone against the mob.

“Well – today we die,” said Veremaz.

Kija smiled warmly; he couldn’t be prouder of the young man.

Three black eagles attacked Veremaz at once. He swept his axe broadly in the hopes of collecting all weapons. Two he managed to hammer aside. The third skewed his side in mid stroke. He kicked into the midriff of the third man, sending him stumbling into his comrades, then with a defiant roar, collected the other two in his dive over the bannister.

A tear rolled from Kija’s eye as he heard the thud. He lacked the opportunity to look, but knew the young man didn’t survive, as nothing stirred. He barely deflected the next stroke as he backed away. His adversaries reminded him of hungry dogs, about to descend on a morsel. One more step had him jabbing left and right to parry thrusts, before he alighted in the mezzanine level, brushing his leg against a bronze vase, almost the same height as a man.

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THE CHAMPIONS OF NUSALLE – Chapter 11 – part – 6

“With me,” said Natas, leading them to the southern end of the camp.

Dried stalks of grass brushed at their thighs. Natas gestured for them to get down. Crouched in the foliage, they made their way towards the start of the bushland. Keeping the ghost gums between the wall and themselves, they flitted from tree to tree, stopping where they ended, thirty paces from the city’s barrier.

Guardsmen by their catapults, stared obliviously ahead at the Black Eagle camp.

Natas crawled into the centre of a circle formed by his men. “We will slip between them and the wall. Stealth is vital. I want men behind the furthest Guardsman before we strike; daggers only.”

Twenty four heads nodded. He waved the first of his men ahead. The Black Eagle slinked into the moonlit space between the trees and the wall, reaching and merging with the shadows without mishap. Another left their muster point and followed as the first man sidled along the wall. Natas left the trees last, joining the moving line taking up positions behind the explosive catapult crews. He signalled his men forward, moving them as one from the wall, then struck. Nusallean elite barely turned, let alone let out a cry as daggers plunged.

“Ring their bell,” Natas said in his normal speaking voice.

Time for stealth passed, the Black Eagles swarmed inside the gates and ran up the stairwells, taking down what few Guardsmen sentries remained. One of his men swatted the bell with his sword. Shortly after, the Black Eagle camp stampeded over the plain.

***

Kija laid within his private palace chambers, awoken by heavy pounding on his door.

“Devra!” cried a frantic male voice.

“Aye,” he said wearily, rolling from his bed.

“The Vindavians are here!”

He snapped his eyes opened and reefed open the door.

Kal Liwil stood in the corridor. “They have breached the city, Devra. The Black Eagles are riding in the streets as we speak. Natas leads them.”

Kija had no need to ask where they came from. Their presence would explain the lack of explosions on the western plains.

“Where is Guardsman, Mick?”

“He is already with the king and queen, Devra.”

“Good; have them wait for me by the foot of the mezzanine stairs.”

“Aye, Devra.”

Kija saw him running off between the closing gap of his door. He slipped his tunic on over his densely muscled frame, then hauberk, surcoat, and helmet. Snatching up his axe from where it leaned against the wall, he exited and sprinted along the mezzanine. Iersta and Olleton looked up within a protective huddle of Blue River Guardsmen.

“Where is Tarb Kenor?” he asked the collective.

Liwil stomped to attention. “He has amassed what Guardsmen he can find in the city to form a defensive wedge against the Vindavians, Devra.”

Kija nodded, already knowing Kenor could never stem the tide of marauders with the few hundred Guardsmen stationed in Caliet.

“Close the palace gates. It will take them time to ram them open,” he explained to Olleton.

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THE CHAMPIONS OF NUSALLE – Chapter 11 – part – 5

“There is a way,” Estron said softly.

Natas halted, waiting.

“I will never be a soldier, but I assume the best way to slay a man is by striking the heart?”

“It is,” said Natas suspiciously.

“So you must find the heart of Nusalle.”

“I already plan to kill Olleton.”

“Heroes die, Natas, but legends live on. The Nusalleans have a source of inspiration that goes beyond their king. Nations evolve to greater heights in later centuries by building on top of the legends of old.”

“And how am I to destroy legends?”

“The Hall of Heroes.”

Natas waited, allowing the conman his moment of dramatic flair.

“Even in Soravia I have heard of this famed hall. To Nusalleans, it is a revered place. It gives her people inspiration, determination to preserve the heroics of their past champions by fighting on. Once you raize the Hall of Heroes to the ground, you will sap the will of an entire nation.”

“Your thinking is faultless, but have you forgotten the Guardsmen on the wall?”

“No, but for my next counsel, I will expect gratitude when this war has ended.”

“You will have land to govern, but I will of course, still be king.”

“Done,” Estron said, clasping wrists and nodding ahead. “You have attempted to storm the front door, and thus far, it has proven too sturdy for your elite.”

Natas fumed, still listening.

“So instead, one should instead remove the hinge.”

Natas looked to Caliet’s wall. Gates remained open as an escape for the men either seated around small fires or patrolling the walls. Naturally, his advisor didn’t refer to literal hinges, but they were always on the sides of doors. He scanned the areas either side of the gates. Jagged rock studded hills flanked the northern side of the plain, whilst dense bushland spread south. A plan formulated in his mind.

“Tonight, I will take Caliet,” he said.

Estron smiled smugly.

“You will tell my second in command to bring me two dozen volunteers. Also tell him, that in our absence the camp will sleep, save the sentries. When I give the signal from the gate, he is to mobilise my elite after me.”

“As you would have it, my King,” Estron said, bowing grandly.

Natas turned his attention to Moxatol in the conman’s absence.

He crouched by the fire and cupped her chin.

“Moxatol, are you still with me?”

She stared vacantly into his eyes, with just a hint of recognition. Somewhere behind the irises, her soul still wandered aimlessly. He had to bring the woman he knew to the fore. Chief sentiments drove her, loyalty, blind devotion – love?

Leaning forward, he kissed her deeply and watched a measure of her former self return.

“Natas?” she whispered almost inaudibly.

“Aye,” he said, brushing her cheek. “Do you know that I love you?”

Audibly, the words spilled fluently. Within his being, they grinded almost to a halt in their struggle to free themselves.

“I always knew.”

Deluded woman, but he had found pleasure in her touch over the years.

“Will you always walk by my side, Moxatol?”

“Forever and always, my love.”

“Good; soon I will need you more than ever. Within the hour, I will enter the streets of Caliet, and that will make Olleton desperate. Who knows how many Blue River Guardsmen he has within the walls, or what champions he has left. Will you help me pave the way, once we are inside?”

Moxatol swallowed. “I will.”

“Excellent,” said Natas as twenty-four of his men arrived.

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THE CHAMPIONS OF NUSALLE – Chapter 11 – part – 4

Dusk settled, then darkness followed over the plain. Natas ordered his men to make camp. They gratefully complied after their exhaustive trek. He restrained Moxatol as one of his men gave her a herbal sedative to drink. If he hadn’t told her not to retaliate, the soldier would have died horribly. At least something of the woman still lurked within.

She continued shriek within his hold for several minutes, her struggles becoming less feeble. Black Eagles gave her a wide berth as she paced aimlessly, hugging herself and ranting nonsensical phrases. Natas’ subconscious shut off her rantings, unaware until later that she quietened down. He strayed to the nearest of the camp fires. The ring of men got to their feet.

“Where is Moxatol?” he asked.

One of the men pointed. “By that fire, my King. With your advisor.”

Natas peered over the flames, spotting the fire mentioned. Estron looked his way as he approached. Moxatol crouched, rocking, and hugging her knees, muttering to herself as she continued to stare into the blaze.

“Moxatol.”

She turned her tear streaked face his way, unnerving him. This was a woman who smiled in every situation. Never before, had he seen such fear etched on any face.

He crouched beside her. “What happened on the plain?”

Slowly, she returned to her vigil of the flames.

He gripped her shoulders and spun her around. “Stop your muttering! Speak to me! Why did you pull back?”

“He has a Spirit in him. It is…” She trailed off, panting rapidly. “Powerful.”

“You have slain possessed men before.”

“No,” she blurted. “This one is different. What he has in him is far greater than anything I have ever known.” She clutched his face. “It is good; Holy,” she said in fearful whisper.

Natas pulled back from her, feeling both dread and revulsion.

She began to rock again, muttering, “Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit…”

“Her mind has come and gone for hours,” said Estron.

Natas made no response. At least she had moments of coherence, proving she wasn’t totally lost to him. It was rare, but any soldier in his army who dropped in a quivering wreck, suffered a sword thrust as they were of no more use, their minds snapped out of fear.

“Since the day I began this war I have been plagued at every turn. Is there no end to the Nusallean champions? I have destroyed a handful of their legends already, and still there are more. What manner of catapults are those by the Nusallean walls that tear the earth asunder like volcanoes? And who is this latest Guardsman who can wield the very power of thunder?”

He grabbed hold of Estron’s robe.

“Why do they have the will to fight on?” he shouted into his face.

He wanted to see Estron’s livid features, giving him at least one small victory.

His advisor held his gaze, unflinching. “Your threats no longer work on me, Natas.”

In frustration, the Vindavian king, grimaced, pulling his hands away. He was about to walk off .

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