Betray: Part 5

An hour after he had scaled the wall Jonarleth crept back into the gardens, noting with satisfaction that normal patrols had resumed. Whether they had woken the king preoccupied him as he stole through the gardens toward the dome of the throne room, slithering across the wet grass.

More than once he had to freeze as a sentry looked in his direction, holding his breath and closing his eyes lest he be revealed. Eventually he darted through a lit doorway and onto plush carpeting, taking time to dry his feet on the expensive fabric while a cynical smile lit his cheeks.

It did not surprise him that the route to the throne lay unguarded, for there was little by way of true value to be found there, or so most thieves would suppose. There was no doubt in Jonarleth’s mind that the treasury would be fortified, that the monarch’s private wing would be sealed to all but the most trusted of advisers. As he set sight upon the tall golden doors of the anteroom, he knew that to post guards to it would only attract unwanted attention, long footfalls gliding within and up the steps to where lay the seat of the Kingdom of Malacia.

“The Torcal is the foundation of Malacia. It is the very seat of the throne,” Jysteral had revealed. As he pushed aside the ornately carved chair and tore up the rug beneath, he reflected on the irony. Beneath lay a metal trapdoor, locked by bolts that swiftly gave way to the precision of his ethereal flames. Lifting it, Jonarleth descended through the revealed passage.

At the end a chamber was buried from prying eyes, beneath the foundations of the throne. Even his heightened eyesight was not apt enough to see within, forcing Jonarleth to call a small flame to his fingertips and cast the chamber in a crimson light: mosaic lined the circular wall and tiled the floor, depicting scenes from before the foundation of Malacia. In the centre rose a pillar of stone upon which was set a sceptre, ornate and bejewelled, capped with a glittering, shimmering diamond the size of a human fist that glowed eerily in response to the magic he wove.

He could discern no traps upon the floor, moving across it timidly as he took in the scene. There, directly before him, he saw a depiction of a man on horseback smiting a hideous beast with his hammer. White circles were shown surrounding his head as though in holy aura, ornate robes of blue dripping from his arms. There could be no doubt that it was Malacitas, and the rendering that of his victory over the forces of chaos, ensuring the foundation of the kingdom. As the black elf drew near to the round podium he read the inscription upon it.

“Here, the weapon of Malacitas’ wrath, never to be raised.”

Magic seemed to lie tingling beneath the very air, pregnant, potent. A tangible charge coursed through the metal. Surely that gem, bound within and glowing so ominous, was the Torcal that he sought!

His eyes travelled the length of it, searching for any cunning mechanism that might defend it. “Nothing,” he whispered, his hand reaching for the bound leather hilt... yet something in the back of his mind did not ring true. Of their own accord his eyes flicked to the picture once more, catching on one subtle detail:
Malacitas wielded a hammer.

With a bitter smile Jonarleth drew back, casting a finer gaze across the stand. The feet upon which rested the rod curved up either side of the hilt, preventing it from being moved to the side, curiously made so as to make it unmovable unless one lifted directly upward. So too was the pedestal itself made strangely, some gap between the upper section of the surface and the lower of the stand. Even, as he circled around and peered closer, the pommel of the weapon seemed weighted, counterbalancing the top.

“Counterweight,” he exclaimed. It suddenly became clear to him. “Utterly ingenious.”

With a firm grasp he set his hands on the binding - careful to avoid the metal - and dragged the top of the pedestal clockwise.

There was an audible click. Under his hand he felt the plinth come loose. Releasing it, he stooped to his knees, dragging the stone clear to reveal a cavity.

Within lay a box of dull metal. Scooping his hands beneath it he pulled it free, startled by the weight as he realised it was fashioned from lead. With grim determination he slung it beneath an arm and turned back toward the throne room, bounding along until a shout from beyond gave him pause.

It appeared he had been optimistic about the guards.

Jonarleth threw himself back as rifle shot splintered the stone around him, rolling into the gloom and drawing an exquisite knife from his belt. At least a dozen armed members of the Panoply waited for him above, armed with muskets and no doubt prepared to kill him on sight. Already he could hear the sound of alarm being raised: they must have waited, hoping the electric trap would fry him as he tried to remove the false weapon.

Quickly he surveyed his options. There was no escape where he had come from, his mind flashing back to when he had last been captured. Somehow, he doubted the servants of Malacia would be so kind as to take him prisoner. Already he could feel the smash of stock into his delicate flesh, panic rising in his breast-

And then his mind caught up with the moment. A wicked grin etched his features as he called flame to his blade, sprinting toward the enemy and seeing their outlines raise barrels toward him in time as slow as treacle. He released the blast, aiming for the canisters slung upon their belts with a grimace of utmost fury.

Only one man survived the explosion, deafened by the gunpowder blast. Mercifully, Jonarleth ended the pain for him.

You can find the complete version of Betray: Part 5 in issue 49 of TBD.

James Thornbury