Home > Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(3)

Ruin (The Faithful and the Fallen #3)(3)
John Gwynne

The new light revealed a dozen attackers amongst them, dressed like the Jehar but moving differently, with none of their fluid grace, as if their bodies held too much power to contain within the confines of flesh and bone. They carved their way through the camp, sending those that attacked them hurtling away. Corban remembered how the Kadoshim had fought in Murias, just after they’d been raised from the cauldron, tearing limbs from bodies with a savage, inhuman ferocity. A wave of fear suddenly swept him, pinning his feet to the ground. He heard a strange language screamed in defiance and looked to see Balur One-Eye the giant, his kin gathered behind him, hurling defiance at the Kadoshim, who paused for a moment, then surged towards Balur.

They have come for the axe.

As he watched them charge together, Corban remembered his mam, their attack on her, how he had tried to stop the blood flowing as he’d held her, how the light had dimmed from her eyes. Hatred for these creatures swept him, burning away the fear that had frozen him moments before, and then he was moving forwards, running faster with each step, Storm at his side.

They saw him before he reached them, or perhaps it was Storm that marked him out. Either way, the Kadoshim obviously recognized him, and who he was supposed to be: the Seren Disglair – Bright Star and Elyon’s avatar made flesh. Some of them broke from the main bulk that was now locked in combat with Balur and his giant kin. Tukul and his Jehar swirled around their edges, slicing, cutting.

Storm lengthened her stride and forged ahead of him. Corban glimpsed the muscles in her legs bunching as she gathered to leap, then she was airborne, colliding with one of the Kadoshim in a mass of fur and flesh, her jaws tearing at its throat.

Instinct took Corban as he reached them; gripping his sword two-handed he raised it high, slashing diagonally, shifting his weight to sweep around his target. He felt his sword bite through leather and mail, shattering bone and carving through flesh. It should have been a killing blow. The Kadoshim staggered, one hand gripping Corban’s blade. It stared at him, black eyes boring into him, then it grinned, blood as dark as ink welling from its mouth. These were no longer the human Jehar whose bodies they’d possessed upon emerging from the cauldron, but something far stronger.

Corban yanked his sword away, saw severed fingers fall as the Kadoshim tried to keep its grip. Its other hand shot out, grabbing Corban around the throat, lifting him from the ground. Impossibly strong fingers began to squeeze. He kicked his legs, tried to bring his sword round, but could put no strength in his blows. Stars appeared at the edges of his vision, a darkness drawing in. The pounding of his heart grew in volume, drowning all else out. Panic swept him and he found new strength, bringing the wolven hilt of his sword down on the Kadoshim’s head. He felt the skull crack, but still it gripped him.

It regarded Corban calmly, head cocked to one side.

‘So you are Meical’s puppet,’ it growled, startling Corban. Its voice was unsteady, a basal rumble that seemed too deep for the throat it issued from.

Corban tried to raise his sword, but it was suddenly so heavy. Too heavy. It slipped from his fingers. The strength was fading from his limbs, leaking from him, a great lethargy seeping through him.

So much for everyone’s hopes of me being the Bright Star. Is this what dying feels like? At least I’ll get to see Mam again.

There was an impact, a crunch that he felt shudder through his body and he saw sharp teeth sink into the Kadoshim’s neck and shoulder.

Storm, he realized, distantly.

The Kadoshim was spun around as Storm tried to drag it off Corban, but it would not release its grip on Corban’s throat. Then there was another impact – this one accompanied by what sounded like wet wood being split as an axe-blade hacked through the Kadoshim’s wrist, severing it completely.

Corban crashed to the ground, his weak legs folding beneath him. He looked up to see Tukul wrestling with the Kadoshim, Storm tearing at the creature’s leg. Then someone else was there, sword a blur, and the Kadoshim’s head was spiralling through the air.

Its body sank to the ground, feet drumming on the turf as a black vapour in the shape of great wings poured from it, eyes like glowing coals regarding them with insatiable malice for a moment before a breeze tugged it apart. A wail of anguish lingered in the air.

Gar stood over Corban, reaching to pull him upright.

‘You have to take their heads,’ Gar said.

‘I remember now,’ Corban croaked.

‘Remember earlier next time.’

Corban nodded, massaging his throat. He touched his warrior torc, felt a bend in the metal.

This must have stopped it from crushing my throat.

The battle was all but done. The grey of first dawn had crept over them as they fought, and by it Corban saw a handful of giants pinning the last Kadoshim to the ground, Balur standing over the creature. His axe swung and then the mist-figure was forming in the air, screeching its rage as it departed the world of flesh.

There was the silent, relief-filled moment that comes at the end of battle. Corban paused, just glad to still be alive, the fear and tension of combat draining from him. He could see it in those around him, the shift and relaxing of muscle in bodies, a change on their faces, a gratitude shared. Then they were moving again.

As dawn rose they gathered their dead, laying them out along the stream bank next to the cairn they’d finished building just yesterday. Corban stood and stared at the pile of rocks they’d dragged from the stream.

My mam is in there, beneath those rocks.

A tear rolled down Corban’s cheek as grief and exhaustion welled in his belly, swelling into his chest, taking his breath away. He heard a whine: Storm, pressing her muzzle into his hand. It was crusted with dried blood.

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