Friday, April 20, 2007

"The Last Stand of King Zalam"

It's Friday again and that means it's time for a new short story, flash fic or essay. I think I'll be doing this for about 13 weeks, if I can. This is the second week.

Today I present to you, dear blog readers, a story that first appeared in the 3rd issue of If - E - Zine(tm) in May of 2004. It's called "The Last Stand of King Zalam" and features one of my favorite mind-children, Zalam, in a Sword & Sorcery world where magic is most often bent to the will of evil men, as is technology, and only the strong, brutal force of a warrior can help justice prevail. I'm definitely a fan of R.E. Howard.

Be sure to add If - E - Zine as a friend on MySpace

"The Last Stand of King Zalam"
© Copyright 2004 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written prior permission of the author and/or artist.


King Zalam drew his three bladed sword. With the flip of a switch built into the hilt the blades began to hum and sing, vibrating ferociously.

“You’ll never take me alive!” cried the king defiantly. Norikahn’s invading forces stormed into Zalam’s elaborate domed throne room decorated from ceiling to floor in pure white marble and affixed here and there with ivory embellishments. Norikahn’s army of two-tone purplish robotic humanoids, known as mechano-men, swarmed around the immense king.

Zalam’s gray skin rippled with nervous muscles bulging and flexing underneath. He stood at the ready before his massive white marble throne, cushioned with violet stuffed velvet, ready with his weapon. More of Norikahn’s men filled the ranks of the enemy. Most were mechano-men, but a scant few were derderoids, kalamans and creedelsians, and a few were humans. All were mercenaries. That’s how Norikahn worked: the disposable machines filled the ranks of his front lines and were treated as not much more than the cannon fodder they were designed to be. Meanwhile, real folk, all hired mercenaries, filled the ranks of his leadership. It all made for an awful looking rag-tag band of an army. One thing could not be denied: its numbers were immense, more immense than Zalam had guessed, and he knew they must have overrun the castle with sheer numbers.

Zalam himself was a derderoid. Few of his kind were spread across the galaxy, but not many were needed. When derderoids mated, which was usually only once in a lifetime, the mothers would birth litters numbering between fourteen and twenty-six. At full adulthood, a derderoid stood ten feet tall and four feet wide at the first and main pair of shoulders. Derderoids had four arms. Two elongated, main arms that stretched to the ground almost like a simian’s. The two smaller arms, located just under the first pair, were much smaller, thinner atavistic limbs left over from a more savage time. For the most part they appeared to be totally useless. They weren’t, of course. Not entirely. Especially to a warrior. Upon closer inspection one would find that the smaller hands were equipped with sharp claws that extended from the knuckle. They were perfect for tearing apart anything – or anyone – within close proximity. Their torso and legs were extremely gaunt and wiry. The legs, reminiscent of an insect’s legs, were thinly muscular and ended in something like hooves. They often acted like springs to achieve great leaps.

King Zalam was surrounded. A fight to the finish was imminent. Yet, the forces of Norikahn did not advance upon him. Instead, they seemed to content themselves with circling him and training their weapons upon him, but nothing more.

“If you are here for my throne, then come! Come! Bring all your strength! All your men! Come and fight for a warrior’s demise! I will build a mountain with your corpses before I die!” Zalam taunted.

Several of the robots charged forward. King Zalam was surprised to see that they had put away their laser rifles in exchange for metal clubs.

“So you intend to beat me to death?” Zalam managed as he began a swooping swing of his sword. He put all his force through his right arm, his strong arm, to provide an impact of power while pulling up on the bottom of the hilt with his left in an act of leverage that would allow him to cut through the mechano-men.

The three blades sliced through one robot, then through a second as he finished his swing. Two more robots came at him from either side, also brandishing metal clubs. King Zalam shifted his shoulders, his left hand leaving the sword, bringing the butt of the hilt to smash in the head of the attacker on his right who promptly fell in a heap a metallic trash. The robot attacker on his left was too quick for Zalam to react with his sword, so with his free hand he grabbed the machine in a grappling hold. Zalam’s left arm slipped up under one of the attacker’s arms. His hand came to grasp the back of the metallic head. Zalam’s tiny arms went to work. They tore away steel plate after steel plate and handful of wire after handful of wire. The robotic thing sputtered as if it were somehow managing real death throes.

Seeing new attackers approaching, he let go of the fading robot before him. Zalam once again grabbed the hilt of his sword with both hands and heaved a mighty swing that arced out towards his new attackers. Again Zalam’s amazing sword cut through one mechano-man and then another, carving them into several slices.

Norikahn’s army seemed to pause as the last two attackers fell to the floor with an echoing crash. His chest heaving a little, King Zalam shouted, “Have you nothing more for me?”

From one of the humans in the back of the ranks arose a cry of attack. The entire army responded by pressing in on Zalam in one huge surge. It was all Zalam could do just to keep his arms free and capable of swinging his beloved sword. He slashed right and downward through another robot, allowing the momentum of the sword to carry upward and back around in a graceful circular motion to cut down two more standing side-by-side. Several robots caught his arms and made great attempts to hold the King in place.

That’s when Zalam saw another derderoid, one slightly taller than he; make an incredible leap from the far end of the throne room in his direction. Despite this new attacker’s position behind all the rest of the army, he easily cleared their heads with his leaping attack. The derderoid gave the traditional war cry of his people “Grohtak-altohkaaa!” and his swinging ball-and-chain came crashing down on to King Zalam’s head.

* * * * *

A combination of hands and water slapping his face brought Zalam back to the waking world. He opened his deeply stygian eyes and found himself in what he immediately recognized as a cell in his own castle’s dungeon. Before him, in all his decorated glory, stood his enemy and one-time friend Norikahn. He was dressed in a purple military uniform, the double-breasted jacket lined with two rows of black buttons. Black knee-high boots, black gloves and a black cloak clasped at the neck with a multi-pointed star made of pure silver completed his look. Just outside the cell’s door stood the derderoid that had delivered the blow to Zalam. Just to Norikahn’s left stood a pudgy, squat human. The human was dressed in nothing but a strap of black leather that covered his crotch, black gloves and black boots similar to those Norikahn wore. From his waist hung a long leather whip. His left nostril had been split open and healed at some point in a gape much like a serpent’s tongue. His hair was thinning, spiked and was dyed a light orange color.

“A good display of force today on your part,” Norikahn complimented Zalam upon seeing his conscious state. “You destroyed nine of my robots before Nord he took you down with his articulated mace. If it were not for him, I think you would have taken twice, mayhaps thrice that before we would have detained you.”

At this, Zalam looked at the derderoid who had bested him, if only by circumstances. “Why would you attack a brother?” Zalam’s question shot at Nord like an arrow. No answer came beyond an unemotional stare.

“Because he desires to be on the side of a new era for Protuculus.” Norikahn answered. “This is, after all, the cradle of all derderoid-kind. He, of all people, has a vested interest in the matters of the state that occur here.” Norikahn paused and looked almost longingly at Zalam before he spoke again.

When he spoke again, it was to the ugly human standing at his side. “Krontus, have I told you of how our dear friend Zalam and I first met?” Norikahn did not wait for an answer, but instead continued without any sense of a pause and turned his attention to Zalam. “Krontus was not so fortunate as you and I were, my dear Zalam. He was not born here on Protuculus. He was birthed on Earth. Even dear Nord back there was birthed in space on a freighter.” Norikahn turned back to Krontus. “It was long ago. Thirty years, mayhaps?” His eyebrows rose to punctuate his question. Zalam refused to answer, so Norikahn continued once again as if he did not mean for an answer to come. “Under the reign of Zalam’s uncle humans were barely tolerable, and then only as slaves. We were forced to live as nomadic tribes on the outskirts of all major cities. I, however, was fortunate. I was borne to a serving maid to Queen Alidia, Zalam’s aunt. As soon as I was old enough I was taught to carry a serving platter for the then King Qik-tahr. Zalam and I grew up together. Our play was tolerated and our friendship blossomed. But that is the foolishness of childhood innocence… or ignorance.

“The king never had a male child and when Zalam came of age the king refused to abdicate the throne to him as customs required, hoping that one day he would still have a son. So Zalam raised an army and overthrew his own uncle. It was a bloody battle. After fifteen days holed up in this palace, King Qik-tahr rushed Zalam’s army, chasing them into the streets, killing everyone who got in the way. My mother died in that battle.”

Norikahn paused with thought, and then continued. “But luring the King out into the streets was Zalam’s plan. King Qik-tahr’s men became fractured as they chased down different targets while Zalam awaited the King with a strong and rested force. Zalam gained the victory he sought. He immediately freed all humans. A kind gesture, if not an act of public relations brilliancy to gain the peoples’ hearts. It worked, but Zalam refused to allow humans to have a voice with their new freedom. As such, they were still treated as second-class citizens of the kingdom. Hence we are here today.

“Protuculus needs a new rule. A new era. Humans need to have a voice.”

Zalam could hold his tongue no longer. “But it is OUR homeworld! You humans attempted an invasion and your failure at that has left you sore ever since. That is why my uncle treated you as slaves. It is no justified reason to enslave a race, but intruders should have no voice in the affairs of the native peoples.”

“Yes, yes. I have heard all your excuses before. The truth is, I was born here and I am a native Protuculian as much as you.”

“Barely a comparison,” Zalam spat.

“But a comparison none-the-less.” Norikahn retorted.

“And what would you do as king? Enslave the derderoids under a thin veil of justice?” Zalam cried.

Norikahn allowed a moments’ pause. “Oh, I’m sorry. I have been so rude.” He continued without any further thought to Zalam’s remarks. “Zalam, you and my bodyguard, Nord, have already been introduced.” Norikahn waved a graceful hand toward the menacing derderoid, then swept the same hand to the nearly naked pudgy human standing nearby. “And this… this is Krontus. My personal…” Norikahn paused in thought before he continued with a rather menacing grin. “Krontus is my personal information gatherer.” The tips of Krontus’s mouth seemed to curl unnaturally. “You two will become most acquainted in a few days time.”

Again Norikahn paused, considering Zalam.

“Krontus, do your best. My dear old friend deserves nothing less.” Norikahn turned with a flare of his cloak and left the cell. Nord followed close behind.

Krontus pulled the leather whip from his waist, letting it unravel to the floor. His arm started working, moving surprisingly gracefully with the whip. He cracked it several times in the face of Zalam without touching him, making the former king flinch with each strike. Krontus moved in closer, arcing his shoulders wider, and the incredible sonic boom of the tiny tip bit into the rough skin of the derderoid.

To the surprise of Krontus, Zalam merely squinted and tensed but gave no cry of pain. The whip cracked again… and again and again. Each time it bit deeper into Zalam’s flesh and each time Zalam refused to utter any sound of pain. A dozen lashes later, Zalam could stand it no longer. Sweat poured from his head and chest. Blood streamed from a multitude of lashes from his chest and stomach. And with one intense crack of the whip across the base of his neck, Zalam finally groaned in pain. Before the darkness of unconsciousness enveloped him, Zalam uttered a solemn oath to his tormentor.

“Tell Norikahn… I will k-kill him before I allow… before I allow myself to die.” Zalam’s head drooped in a feint.

* * * * *

“Master. Master.” Fistfuls of water and a few gentle hand slaps finally brought Zalam to.

Zalam opened a feeble eyelid to look upon the face of Krontus. The man had spent the last several days, three or four Zalam had thought, simply beating and whipping and pulling and tearing at Zalam in every which direction. Through it all Zalam’s krohtahk, or warrior spirit, kept him defiant of his tormentor. Though by this point Zalam’s acts were just that, pre-conditioned acts taught to him during the rites of passage that derderoid traditionalists went through. His heart, however, left him a day or so ago in a bout of weariness and pain.

As Zalam once again looked upon the face of the ugly Krontus, his conditioning kicked in and commanded him like a line of code commanding one of Norikahn’s mechano-men. “Back for more, are we?”

Krontus looked at him confusedly. “Oh, my visage. I am sorry, my master.”

Zalam became confused, his eyes drooping heavily with the thought that Krontus was baiting him for more psychological torture on this day than the physical tortures he had been inflicting thus far. His body prepared itself automatically to a relaxed state, ready for any whips or beating that the day would bring. Zalam realized that he was dangling from the cell’s back wall from nothing more than four wrist shackles.

“How is that, master?” The voice, Zalam thought, sounded ever familiar. “Master, it is I. And I have come for you.”

Zalam struggled against his training to open an eye. Before him, in the exact spot where Krontus once stood, was now a friendlier face.

“Calibos!” A sense of sobriety overcame Zalam as his eyes widened to take into full view the friend that stood before him. “But, but how?”

Calibos immediately began unfastening the chains that held Zalam fast to the cool stonewall of his cell.

“News of the invasion reached the Temple but two days ago. It was two days ride from there to here.” Calibos explained. He was a younger man, a human man, of his mid-twenties. His face was pale but full and his head was covered with sleek black hair. He wore a simple but heavy brown hooded robe. “When I heard my liege had been overrun, I had to come and see for myself. Through some investigation, and minor trickery, I was able to find out you were alive and of your whereabouts.”

“So I see that Temple of yours has been teaching you new things,” Zalam said in response to Calibos’ earlier illusionary guise.

“A simple trick. But effective if done at the right time,” Calibos seemed to blush a bit in pride.

Zalam’s hands were now free and he was rubbing his swollen wrists. He ignored the lacerations upon his chest, back, stomach and legs. “So where is the real Krontus?”

“The warder of these cells?”

“Yes, that’s him.”

Calibos hesitated. “He is dead.” Zalam peered at his human friend, wondering. As if reading his mind, Calibos explained, “He is the first man I’ve ever killed.” Zalam suddenly understood. Being blooded for the first time was always a dramatic, even at times a traumatic, experience in ones’ life. This was especially so for humans who have no such warrior training to prepare them for the moment.

Zalam changed the subject somewhat, “Why did you come here?”

Calibos stared at Zalam. “Why, for you, of course. We’ve been friends since childhood… and don’t you remember? When you took the throne I was there to swear my oath of allegiance to you. As long as you live, I am your servant.”

Zalam was moved inside. “And apparently my friend.” Zalam extended his hand in thanks. Calibos took it and said, “Of course.”

“Let’s go get my sword.” Zalam broke the spell of friendship when he spoke.

“What? Why? Should we not fly from this castle as quickly as possible?”
“No. I intend to kill Norikahn for once and for all,” Zalam gave Calibos a hard look, and then moved out of the cell. Zalam made his way by the many cells of the dungeon and up a long stone stairway.

“The castle is full of his men. To take him… it would be impossible.” Calibos pleaded. “Let us just flee.”

“No,” Zalam said. “I have a score to settle with Norikahn. And a throne to regain. He intends mistreatment of my people.” Zalam stopped at the top of the stairs and opened the wooden door there just a crack to peer out. “He is most likely basking in the glow of my throne room.”

“Sire, I still think that we should-“

“Quiet!” Zalam whispered the command with force. Calibos heard the footsteps of someone passing just beyond the door.

“Come on!” Zalam said, again in a forced whisper. He bolted through the door, his legs propelling him ever quicker with every step. Calibos leaned out the door and looked into the massive round entrance hall to find it empty with the exception of the lone mechano-man guard Zalam was running up on from behind.

Zalam caught the guard from behind, wrapping one of his massive arms around the chest of the mechano-man. His other massive arm reached for and grabbed the laser blaster away from the guard. All the while his two tiny arms sunk their talons deep into the guard’s torso, ripping away plating and wires in a flurry.

Calibos rushed up behind the two struggling figures, keeping a watchful eye on the gloriously white marble room.

“Let’s hope these robots have no way of communicating with each other remotely, or else we’ll be overrun very soon,” Zalam told Calibos as he let the now torn-to-shreds guard fall to the floor. Without much thought, Calibos grabbed the metallic pile and pulled it toward the door from whence he and Zalam had just come from. “We must hide this body,” Calibos said. Zalam helped him, still clutching the laser rifle. They placed it behind the door and Calibos closed it, while Zalam took his turn to keep a watchful eye on the room. Zalam held the bulky laser rifle in his hands with quite a bit of ease and comfort.

“We head for the throne room now,” Zalam said as he walked across the hall towards a massive set of gold plated double-doors. “He’ll most likely have guards just inside the doors. And perhaps several more further inside the room.”

“Wait, Zalam,” Calibos tugged at the arm of his friend. “Some tact might be in order.”

“Some of your magiks? I had already thought of that. Why not make some explosion or something to take out the guards all at once?” Zalam suggested.

“Because I can’t.” Calibos answered. “Most of what I know is illusionary. A moment, please. Keep an eye out.” Zalam and Calibos backed up to the wall near the doors. Zalam eyed the whole room and its many doors with intensity while Calibos whispered a few words of a dead language from thousands of years ago. A strange transformation began on Calibos. Zalam could not help but stare as his friend changed into the guise of a robot guard like the one that Zalam had just torn to pieces.

“Give me the gun and the image is complete,” Calibos said in a mechanical voice. Zalam had to admit, if he had not witnessed the transformation himself, the visage was so good that he most likely would have ripped his friend to shreds as well.

“Now, for you,” Calibos set the gun against the marble wall. Again he spoke in archaic tongues, this time in his new mechanical voice and with a wave of his hands towards Zalam. Immediately, Zalam saw the change. He was becoming invisible!

“I can’t see myself!” Zalam half-cried.

“And you won’t for some time. But you won’t need to.” Calibos grabbed the gun again. “I’ll run in and cause a distraction. You sneak in behind me through the open doors and attack Norikahn when you have the chance.”

“My friend,” came Zalam’s disembodied voice. “You are a genius.”

Cailbos busted into the massive throne room where once Zalam stood fighting the invading horde of mechano-men and mercenaries. Now there were only five guards. Two were at the door as Zalam had guessed, another stood sentry to the left of the long royal velvet rug that led to the throne, and one on either side of the throne where Norikahn sat. All were mechano-men, but the guard on the right of Norikahn was the intimidating Nord. Leaning against the throne between Norikahn and Nord, Calibos recognized Zalam’s traditional derderoid triple bladed sword.

Before Norikahn stood a human dressed in elegant robes. Calibos decided that he must be some sort of ambassador meeting with Norikahn for the first time. He also noticed that behind and above the throne a massive hole had been cut and chipped away from the domed ceiling. He wondered what this hole could serve as for Norikahn. All of them turned in shock as Calibos entered the room in a rush.

“To arms!” Screeched Calibos’ voice. “Intruders! Intruders are about in the courtyard!’

Norikahn stood, alerted. “Nord, check it out. You two by the door, join them.” Nord leapt into action and the guards at the door followed. Not knowing what else to do, Calibos stepped aside thinking that Zalam might need his assistance.

“Come,” he heard Nord command. Fearing he might jeopardize the task at hand, Calibos reluctantly followed the derderoid guard.

“Master Onkiot,” Norikahn addressed his visitor, “There is a chamber here to our left. Perhaps we should retreat there until all is settled.”

Zalam snuck deep into the throne room. He found that Norikahn, the guard, nor the new man called Onkiot standing before the throne took any notice of him. Zalam was pleased.

He quickly found his way to the side of the throne, picking up his beloved sword. Onkiot jumped with fright. Norikahn turned and saw the sword rising from its resting place unnaturally.

“Sorcery!” cried Onkiot. Zalam switched on the vibrating blades with an audible “snap!” and took a swing. The agile Norikahn made an incredible leap from where he stood before the throne, drawing the gun at his waist and avoiding the three swinging blades all at once. The guard moved forward almost hesitantly, as if unsure of what was happening.

“Attack! Attack the sword, you damned fool machines!” Norikahn commanded. As the mechano-men guards raised the barrel of their blasters, Zalam swung his sword wide and in an upward direction. The blades bit into the steel of the blaster of the guard standing near the throne and through it’s left hand. Both hand and gun were completely sliced in half, falling to the ground.

As the mechano-man tried to take aim at him once again, Zalam leapt down the length of the velvet carpet to land almost atop the remaining guard. His triplet of blades sliced the things into four pieces from head to crotch.

Norikahn took his own shot. A loud crack resounded throughout the chamber, echoing from the archaic weapon that fired bullets and to which Norikahn had always had a preference. Zalam, who was already jumping back down the carpet to stand on his former throne and finish off the guard standing there in an almost stunned manner, avoided the shot easily. Zalam brought the three blades down onto the robot, slicing through his head and out through his right shoulder. The upper third of the robot then slid away from the rest of the body and fell to the clean white marble floor.

Zalam took quick notice that Onkiot had receded into the background, mumbling incoherently much in the same manner as Calibos had to make him invisible. “Dammit, another sorcerer!” Zalam cursed quietly as his hand, wrapped around the hilt of his sword, came into full view of his eyes.

“Zalam!” Norikahn cried.

“Norikahn! I’ll have your head!” Zalam yelled back. He crouched deep into the throne, releasing his legs like springs and flying forward toward Norikahn. He screamed the traditional war cry of his people as he flew through the air. “Grohtak-altohkaaa!”

Norikahn’s archaic gun cracked loudly again. Zalam’s body teetered a bit in mid-air. Norikahn had to jump out of the way of Zalam’s flying body to avoid being hit. Zalam’s body hit the floor with a thud and slid to the wall, hitting his head.

Norikahn stood a moment, panting with excitement. “Onkiot,” Norikahn finally said. “Come, to my jet platform!” The two humans ran behind the throne where a large, flat platform was hidden. On the fore of the platform was a sort of pedestal. Upon it was a panel of controls. The two men jumped onto the jet platform. With a few flips of some switches and a couple turns of knobs, the platform lifted off the floor with the two men atop and flew out the massive hole in the dome.

Zalam was just picking himself off the floor when Nord returned, carrying a mechano-man like a piece of luggage in one hand and his weapon in the other. Zalam tightened his grip on his sword while Nord looked around and saw the receding image of his liege flying away on the platform with Onkiot. He then turned his eyes toward Zalam.

“Zalam! It’s me!” The mechano-man struggled with his voice, kicking his legs with no effect. Zalam at once realized that somehow Nord had discovered the ruse and had taken Calibos prisoner.

“You and your friend will die,” Nord said. His one free large hand started whirling the ball-and-chain. Nord turned the ball in awkwardly, almost toward himself, and with a wide arc brought it careening in a downward motion. Zalam pushed forward with his legs and shoulders, thrusting out his sword and catching the chain between two of the blades. The ball stopped just above Calibos’ head.

“Not yet,” Zalam said. “I have an oath to deliver unto your lord.” He brought his sword up, cutting into the chest of Nord. It wasn’t a deep cut, but it was good enough to cause him to lose sight of what he was doing. Nord dropped Calibos to the floor and reeled backward. The chain that was between Zalam’s blades slipped free. Immediately the two derderoids took offensive positions facing each other.

Each derderoid took one immense stride towards each other, locking their dark eyes on each other. Nord brought his ball-and-chain down at Zalam’s head. Zalam, shifting his weight and twisting his shoulders, released the sword with his left hand and thrusted it forward with his right. Nord’s weapon missed Zalam’s head, but slammed down hard onto the left side of his pelvis. An audible crack filled the chamber and Zalam cried in pain as his own weapon sunk deep into Nord’s gut, the tips of the blades extending out of back. Nord accompanied Zalam with his own cry of pain.

Zalam shifted again, trying to keep his weight on his right foot. He saw Nord recovering from the pain and bringing his arm and weapon back up into a heavy swing. Zalam grabbed the hilt of his sword, which was still sticking out of Nord, and twisted it with all his might. The blades almost squealed with the tension. Seeing the heavy ball coming back down toward him, Zalam repositioned his hands on the hilt and yanked hard, pulling the three blades out of the side of Nord’s gut.

Blood sprayed across the clean velvet carpet and white marble floor of the throne room. Nord’s weapon fell short of hitting Zalam. His intestines plugged the hole in his side that Zalam had made, fighting with itself to push its’ way to freedom. Nord fell to his knees.

Zalam straightened, panting and eyeing his enemy. Remembering Nord’s earlier war cry when they first met in the throne room, he knew that he had been given the derderoid warrior rite of passage. So, in respect and in response to that, he quoted the Rite of Death to Nord. “May you die in glory."

Nord looked up and gave a quick nod, which seemed to only bring him more pain as his face grimaced.

“I know not who you are, but-”

“I am Nord,” Nord interrupted. “Bastard son of Qik-tahr.”

Zalam stammered. He did not know what to say.

“Rule well,” Nord whispered. His body slumped forward with one final heaving breath. Nord was dead. For a long while Zalam just stood, his body’s weight resting on his right leg, staring at the body of the cousin he never knew and the rightful heir to the throne.

“Sire,” Calibos’ voice brought Zalam back to reality. He turned to look at his faithful friend who had dropped his robotic visage and now stood at his side. “This castle is still overrun with Norikahn’s men.”

“We will fight our way out,” Zalam said.

“We can’t. At least, not if we intend to survive. Norikahn’s men, both artificial and real, will not give up their new power so easily. Norikahn is sure to return. Perhaps he is already elsewhere in the castle plotting out demise.”

“Then we will die a warrior’s death,” Zalam grunted.

Calibos sighed. “If that is what you wish, master, then I will die with you here on this day. But we humans have a saying, a certain aspect from our own philosophy of war. ‘Sometimes it is better to run and live to fight another day than to fight and die today.’”

Zalam was almost amazed by his friend’s wisdom. His time at the temple had surely had an affect on him. “What do you suggest?”

“I have strength, I think, for one last spell. Either I can heal your wound so we may fight, or I can cast a spell that will cause one of us to levitate. While levitating, we can simply walk out of the very hole in the dome that Norikahn used himself as an escape route. All you do is walk on air.”


“Well, yes. As I said I barely have the strength to cast the spell. I doubt I’ll stay conscious after casting it. You’ll have to carry me. If you can with your wound.”

“Pain is nothing to me. What will happen when the spell wears off? Will we fall to our deaths?” Zalam questioned.

“No, it wears off slowly and we’ll slowly be placed back onto the ground.”

“I see,” Zalam was new to magic in his presence, and a bit suspicious. But, he decided, he could trust his friend. He thought a moment, and then said, “Let us fight another day.”

Again Calibos uttered a few long-forgotten words and with a wave of the hand he passed out into Zalam’s arms. Zalam immediately began to float off the bloodstained white marble floor. Zalam struggled to pick up his friend and limped though the hole in the dome. He continued to scan the castle, hoping he would not be seen walking slowly and with great effort in the air. There were no guards along the walls. Zalam guessed that Norikahn had returned and was gathering them for an assault on the throne room. Or at least, that’s what he was hoping. With his friend in his arms, his sword switched off and in his hand, Zalam turned his back on his throne and walked away through the air.

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