Chapter 17:

15 - Yearning For Home

The Fallen Diadem

“You used your mouth? Were you raised in a cave?”Bookmark here

I hadn’t realized that the Order of the Broken Concordant had a detachment of priests and priestesses with it, medical chaplains in a sense. The priestess who had stitched up my arm was now mad on my behalf. She was an adult, with her blonde hair tied back with a sash that barely kept it straight, like a housewife doing chores. Her black and white robes would have been stylish, if they weren’t bundled up and splattered with blood; only some of which was mine. Perhaps a midwife was the closest comparison.Bookmark here

“Are you calling my mouth dirty?” Neeka snarled back, her tail bristling as she glared back at the priestess.Bookmark here

“Sounds like your ears are clean at least. Human and felinid mouths are disgusting! Bites are by far the most likely injury to get gangrene from and you went and stuck your mouth all over a fresh wound!” she shouted back, jabbing her with a finger.Bookmark here

“The cut needed to be cleaned so the blood could push the poison out!”Bookmark here

“Blood loss will kill him before poison does!”Bookmark here

They kept going back and forth with one another, leaving me to sit quietly on the stone beneath them. Sister Evey had cleansed my wound with some kind of antiseptic that had burned like a fire poker, then smeared in a healing paste with ingredients unknown, before stitching it back together. Her official diagnosis was to stop being a baby because I wasn’t going to die, and to not use the arm for a month. How I was supposed to fend off attacks from the fallen while not being able to move my arm, I didn’t know.Bookmark here

The fighting hadn’t stopped just because I had been carried to the backline. Fallen were still climbing out of the water and throwing themselves upon the blades of the soldiers. The amount needed to hold the backline was small, most were facing the opposite direction; to the gates of the castle. Bookmark here

Amaranth had slain both dragons, rendering their bodies to butchered piles of meat and gore without ever getting scratched himself. The power that had laid waste to beasts would, in a moment, bring the castle gate down. Until then, while he caught his breath and drank water, the gate protected us as much as it protected whatever was inside from us.Bookmark here

“Drink,” Charlie said, shoving a flask against my chest.Bookmark here

I took it with my good hand, and since it was already open, I drank. I almost gagged as I realized I had taken a full swallow of brandy. “How did you get this?” I asked, wiping the spill from my chin. I coughed and gasped, feeling the burn go through my nose.Bookmark here

He shrugged. “Snuck it off one of the other casualties. There’s a special portion of the stuff for medical purposes, so be grateful to your benevolent leader, why don’t you? It’ll make you feel better.”Bookmark here

I found myself looking at the flask and thinking, like a piece of memory had just come back to me. What I wanted was a real pain killer, like codeine or at least acetaminophen. Where had I heard of those, though? I didn’t think I had even seen something in pill form since meeting Charlie and everyone. For that matter, how had I learned medical knowledge?Bookmark here

“Are you going to drink it or not? It’ll put hair on your chest too. If you don’t want it, give it to me!”Bookmark here

I pulled away. “Save it for the injured. Your blisters don’t count,” I said, and stuffed it back into my lips. I upended the flask and drank as much as I could. I was wiping the tears from my eyes and trying to look mature when Claire walked back over.Bookmark here

“So do you get to keep it? Or is it getting cut off?” she asked.Bookmark here

I shook my head. “I’ll be back to normal in a week.”Bookmark here

Sister Evey broke out of her argument with Neeka instantly, to glare down at me. “One month rest. You hear me? I have a reputation for healing people, and I’m not gunna let your stupidity ruin my hard work. You got that, kid?”Bookmark here

“Yes, ma’am.”Bookmark here

Claire rolled her eyes. “Always a pleasure Evey. You still not regretting leaving the sea behind for chasing an army?”Bookmark here

The blonde sighed and turned up her hands. “I can’t just turn down my calling, and Lord Amaranth has a way of always getting into trouble so I have no short of help to give. I just don’t know why they all have this fear of women of the cloth.”Bookmark here

I figured it would be because she was one of the people able and willing to lop their limbs off to stop infection. That would scare anyone away from her. She didn’t exactly have a demure personality either, but she had sealed my wound back up within a minute of seeing it and I wasn’t bleeding to death.Bookmark here

Amaranth stepped up on the back of one of the dragons. With his back to the sun, everyone noticed. “Casualty report!” he bellowed, and one of the captains stepped out to salute.Bookmark here

“Five deaths, twelve injuries, sir.”Bookmark here

“Right then!” Amaranth shouted. “Nothing like a little wet surprise in the morning, nothing you all can’t handle now is it? We’re at the gate now, at the precipice of danger and in too deep to be going back empty handed. It’s time to seize the world by the stones!”Bookmark here

The mass of soldiers burst into laughter. The lifted up their swords or clattered them against their shields.Bookmark here

“”Hold that line boys! We’ll be coming back for it with the jewel of Vichtstein in hand!” Amaranth shouted to the rearguard. He hopped off the dragon and marched up to the gate.Bookmark here

“Come on, we gotta join,” Charlie said, trying to pull me up by my shoulder.Bookmark here

“Excuse me, but how exactly is he supposed to join if he can’t use one of his arms?” Sister Evey demanded, stepping between me and the gate.Bookmark here

“What? I’m supposed to stay out here waiting for a fallen archer to put an arrow in me? I’ve still got one arm, don’t I? Besides, can’t you see we’re slaves? Gotta go pay off our debts somehow,” I said, leaning my head to one side to give her a look at the collar.Bookmark here

The blond sighed and I watched her scowl shift to a frown. “Whatever. Do whatever you want you idiot,” she said, putting up her hands and marching off to find the next injured person.Bookmark here

The five of us fell in formation loosely within the midst of the raid party. They all surrounded me without saying anything; Xon at my back, Charlie to my left, Neeka to my right, and Claire in front.Bookmark here

“My mouth is not dirty,” the cat girl said under her breath.Bookmark here

“After all that lake water you were sucking on? It’s definitely dirty now,” Charlie said, unable to help himself.Bookmark here

“Shut up you two,” Claire ordered.Bookmark here

Ahead of us, Amaranth stood before the gate. Ten feet high of hardwood riveted with steel braces. The sinking city had jammed it in place, the masonry squeezing around it and holding it firm. The army commander didn’t even bother trying to push it open, he attacked. I could feel the impact of his downward slash all the way through the ground. Ascalon cleaved through some kind of brace. Then he did it again and again, before thrusting the tip against the center.Bookmark here

He had cut a hole through the middle of the gate and his thrust sent the chunk of wood flying inward to the darkness. Just like that, the Order of the Broken Concordant was the most successful raid on Vichtstein in history. The stale air of the castle mingled outwards like an emerging fog. It smelled like a dried out swamp; like rot and death. The soldiers around us started to mumble, the high spirits fading away and apprehension replacing them. It felt like more fallen should have come pouring out at the provocation, but for the moment it was as quiet as a forgotten temple.Bookmark here

Part of the army was still to our backs, still fending off a seemingly endless supply of rabid creatures. Dawdling wasn’t acceptable, so Amaranth stepped in first. A few captains bellowed orders, and I saw a vanguard run in behind him, sweeping to either side of the castle’s main hall. From where I was, I couldn’t see anything beyond the shadows. Even when they lit torches, all I saw was the shadows dancing across the roof. The hole Amaranth had made was smaller than the gate, it was even more restrictive on passage. Soldiers could barely file in two at a time.Bookmark here

Then the shouting began. The clash of steel. There was fighting inside.Bookmark here

I heard captains start shouting for them to get inside quicker, to provide backup, to get ready to fight.Bookmark here

“Mage!” someone shouted from within.Bookmark here

That one word made the entire army flinch. They all lifted their shields or pulled their weapons in tighter. Their heads dipped down like they could vanish into their breastplates if they tried hard enough.Bookmark here

I turned to Charlie but he just shrugged, same with Neeka. Xon answered my unspoken question, “It is using the diadem.”Bookmark here

“But what’s it? A fallen?”Bookmark here

Before I could get an answer, something struck the gate. A silver object blasted through from the inside like a battering ram. Wood exploded in every direction as the metal ball careened overhead. I saw it hit a stone outcropping, skip like a stone on water, and land on the barge. It punched a hole straight through the deck, stopping in a heap within one of the flooding hulls. And sprouting from the middle of it was the golden spear, Ascalon.Bookmark here

Amaranth Arnstein, Holy Lance of Throne, and slayer of dragons, had just been defenestrated from the castle. Bookmark here

“It’s the king! The king of the fallen!” another shoulder shouted as light like the reflection of the moon illuminated the castle. Panic spread through the ranks, and I started to feel light headed. I could hear the sounds of people dying, I could hear the fear in their screams.Bookmark here

“What am I doing here?” I asked myself.Bookmark here

“Fight!” the order erupted from behind. Amaranth stood in the middle of the barge, one hand clinging to Ascalon for support and the other hanging limp. He took a forceful step, and all the fallen from the lack shrank back around him. His helm had come off, or perhaps he had removed it, but I could see blood streaming down his face as he snarled back at the army. He rose up, filling his chest with air anew and shouted, “Are you men or cowards? Slay them all!”Bookmark here

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