TOWER OF THE LORDS

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  • CHAPTER 27

    He could picture them taking shape. Their
    sizzling eyes waking up, blue flames billowing out of their nostrils. Using
    their sharp claws to dig themselves out of their thousand-year grave. The first
    thing, Nesto imagined, the dragons would probably do would be to spread their
    wings and fly back to the skies, where they belonged, with a thundering roar.
    And the second thing…the second thing was obvious. Their divine blood would
    definitely seek revenge.



    Nesto knew where his thoughts, these
    pictures, were leading him. And he didn’t want to go there, to that kind of
    thinking; it was dangerous. Too dangerous. He had succeeded in banishing such
    thoughts, when Silan-te told him about his divine blood, but he wasn’t sure if
    he could do so, now. Because now, it was too real. And, yes, it frightened him.



    He hid the mark with his top, and turned
    around. Behind him. No, not behind him; towards the wall to peek through a
    hole. He didn’t know what he would like to see; probably nothing. He just
    wanted to fool his mind. To occupy it with something, anything but those
    thoughts, those images. He felt lost and, for a moment, he even forgot where he
    was. Daemon was trying to tell him something, but his words didn’t make sense.
    At least, that weird sound of his voice, was somehow distracting him…



    Oh, I wish this flame would stop burning
    me.
    That burning sensation was a spark, the trigger
    for fear to turn into pictures. He did his best to block those pictures out
    again, to become numb, and feel nothing, to not acknowledge them, but his
    efforts came to nothing. In the end, they came rushing through his mind: a sea
    of fire burning towns and villages. Small kids, old people, commoners, and
    nobles trying to escape that winged threat. All of them falling prey to the
    dragons’ ruthless jaws. He pictured the City of the Kings going up in flames
    and getting destroyed, just like the Fortress of Lord Zoloc on the second
    level. And I will be the one responsible for all this. Because I so
    selfishly survived.



    All those scary stories about the dragons
    would come true, and even more, harrowing stories would be written. It was
    likely that his own name would be mentioned in them. Not as a heroic Lord, but
    as the one responsible for all the atrocities. Not as a hero, but as evil
    itself. He would be compared to the demon Tzenon, and surely he’d come out as a
    far greater evil. He would, without a doubt, be known as the greatest evil to
    have existed.



    And, believe it or not, that wasn’t the
    worst part. Garon and Lirel would be in danger because of the dragons, too. They
    might be killed because of me.
    Of course, there might be a slim hope of
    survival for them, but the Cursed Ones, the ones that betrayed the dragons in
    the first place, were surely doomed to suffer their fiery revenge. And Silan-te
    would be no exception. I will lose her forever. And he couldn’t handle
    it, he couldn’t handle any of that.



    Everyone will suffer because of me. It
    is obvious that I shouldn’t exist.
    He turned his
    head towards the noble. “Daemon, kill me,” he blurted out without much thought.
    Lord Ereina and the Cursed Ones were in a hurry to kill him, although the
    alignment had already begun. So, if he were to die right now, maybe, just
    maybe, the dragons wouldn’t be able to rise from their graves and kill everyone
    he cared about. The chances of him coming out of this alive were already pretty
    slim, anyway. He would be doing everybody a favour.



    “Hey, look who’s back,” said Daemon, after
    he tore his eyes away from the hole he had been peeking through. “Tired of
    staring at the wall already, commoner? You know that, sometimes, you have the
    tendency to get lost in thought, right?”



    “I know, I do it all the time,” Nesto
    replied. “Now, I need you to kill me before I change my mind, before it’s too
    late. Just do it. Don’t make me beg you.”



    The noble took it for a joke. “I’m honestly
    thinking about it, but I doubt it would, in any way, help me reach the portal.
    So, no. I will have to decline your offer.”



    “Daemon, I’m serious,” Nesto insisted.
    “Because of me, the dragons will rise. Don’t you see? I’m the greatest evil.”



    “Greatest evil? Clearly, you haven’t met my
    dear father. You wouldn’t say that if you had seen him.”



    Yet, he had seen enough memories of him to
    know how merciless and brutal that man was. And I’m still a far greater
    evil.
    “You saw what that one dragon was capable of. Cities and villages
    will be reduced to ashes in their wake. I can’t even imagine how many will
    die.”



    The noble remained silent for a while,
    sizing him up. “That’s not my problem,” he finally said. “Nor is it yours. Let
    the Order of the Lords handle it. They are not that weak. They will find a way
    to protect most of the cities. Besides, if you wish so badly to die, then why
    don’t you do it yourself?” Daemon got closer and took his glassy dagger. He
    wrapped Nesto’s hands around its handle, and then aimed its sharp point at his
    heart. “Here you are! Just a small push, and everything will be over. All your
    guilt will be gone.”



    His hands grabbed the green dagger, while
    this seemed to be slipping away. The mark was still burning him, making his palms
    sweat. Just a small push, and Garon, Lirel, and Silan-te would be safe. He saw
    the noble look at him, his eyebrow raised. “You don't really think I will do
    it, do you?” Nesto asked.



    Daemon shook his head. “No, not really.
    One’s own survival always comes first. You are the one who said it, remember?”



    He took a decisive step backwards. This
    wasn’t a joke, a game. Killing himself ought to be the best choice, no matter
    what that son of the demon said. But…his father and brother knew about it and,
    still, they wanted him to survive. “Just keep in mind,” said the noble with a
    smile. “If you die, Silan-te is mine. Not that you stood any chance against me,
    anyway. I’m just clearing it up.”



    That was enough to bring him back to his
    senses. I think he knows me too well. Maybe, even more than I know myself. And
    part of him hated him unbelievably for that, while the other part was grateful.
    “You’d wish, noble. She belongs to me.”



    “Not if you are dead. So, go on. Kill
    yourself. Don’t worry, I’ll wait patiently,” Daemon said and crossed his hands
    above his chest.



    In answer to that, Nesto put the dagger
    back into its case, and feigned a smile. “I changed my mind. You are right. I
    only care about my own survival, after all.”



    That smug smile turned up across his lips,
    as usual. “I’m always right. Can we focus on how to reach the portal without
    getting killed, now?”



    They sat on the ground, and focused only on
    this, but no plan seemed to be good enough to be worth taking a risk for. From
    the start, they rejected the idea of messing with whoever came their way, and
    force their way into the portal. That would be plain stupid. Especially if the
    Lord Commander was guarding it. After a long dispute, Nesto managed to convince
    Daemon to also reject the idea of one of them being the bait, while the other
    would escape. The one acting as a bait would most probably die. And it was
    certain that, in the noble’s mind, the bait would be Nesto, since he was the
    one that the Order of the Lords wanted so desperately to kill.



    They were still thinking, when they saw a
    Cursed One hurriedly and clumsily heading in their direction, his green dagger
    glowing in the dark. They instantly separated and retreated, as silently as
    they could, in even darker recesses of the ruins. Obviously, the masked men had
    already searched a big part of the island—without finding anything—, and now
    they were focusing their attention on the ruins. There was only one of them,
    but a shout would be enough to summon all the Lords and Cursed Ones.



    He never had the chance, though. Nesto
    sliced open his throat, coming from behind, and the masked man died in complete
    silence. He was ready to throw the dead body in some dark corner, when Daemon
    stopped him. He bent over the soulless body, removed the white mask, revealing
    his sparkling green eyes, and pensively checked his clothes. “I just thought of
    a way to reach the portal unnoticed,” he said. “If we wear the mask and their
    black clothes, they would never be able to tell us apart. What do you think?”



    Nesto had to consider it for a while. He
    had to admit it—it was the best thing they had come up with up until now,
    although it was somewhat crazy. It was worth a try; they could take the risk.
    “I think Lord Zoloc would be proud of you.”



    “Oh, shut it,” he said, and began to remove
    the clothes of the masked man. “We’ll need another mask, and a second pair of
    clothes. I’ll dress up as a Cursed One, and go kill another one. It should be
    easy enough.”



    “Why you, and not me?”



    “Why don’t you trust me? Do you perhaps
    think that I’m going to abandon you here, or use you as a bait?” he asked. I
    can’t say that it didn’t cross my mind.
    The noble’s arguments were that he
    had observed Silan-te for a long time, and could mimic their movements better.
    He was the one most likely to succeed. “And, of course, I don’t even have to
    mention that I don’t trust you completely. You might change your mind again,
    and ask a Cursed One to kill you before it’s too late, or something like that,”
    he added. On the other hand, Nesto’s arguments were nonexistent.



    Daemon put on the mask, took off his own
    ripped clothes to wear those of the masked man and, covering his head with the
    hood, took the glassy dagger. “How do I look?” he asked.



    He looked like a murderous shadow. “It’s
    more than enough to fool me,” he said. “As far as I can tell, you look exactly
    like a Cursed One.”



    When the noble was gone, Nesto hid back in
    the dark, without even bothering to peek through a hole, for an incoming
    threat. His mind and emotions were in such a state that he might end up staring
    at the wall again. He had to strive to keep himself under control. And,
    somehow, he knew it wasn’t just because the dragons were rising. It was far
    deeper than that. It might have had to do with the alignment. Lord Zoloc had
    mentioned that, when the alignment took place, Daemon would feel the urge to
    kill him because of his divine blood.



    And this is what I feel because of the
    blood that runs through my veins. Total chaos!



    At least, the noble seemed to control it,
    otherwise he would surely have killed him, when Nesto asked him to. To think
    that only a few thoughts are enough to forfeit my life.
    Blaming the
    alignment wasn’t a good enough excuse. Daemon was right, after all, about
    calling him weak. And he had realised it from the beginning.



    The Cursed One he had killed carried some
    berries, so Nesto kept himself busy chewing, while waiting for Daemon to come
    back. A couple of hours had passed since their last meal, but the run and all
    those thoughts had whetted his appetite. Not to mention that the meat was
    completely burnt.



    Daemon took so long that, for a moment,
    Nesto doubted if he would actually come back. But, fortunately, he did. “Put
    them on quickly!” he said, as he took out the white mask and black garment. “I
    made the Cursed One share with me everything he knew before I killed him. You
    were right. Lord Commander Legris is guarding the last portal, and he might not
    be the only one.” He paused for a while, then said in a lifeless voice, “They
    also succeeded in slaying my demon father.”



    The noble stayed silent after this, behind
    his impersonal mask. Nesto didn’t speak, either. He didn’t say a word, even
    when he put on the black clothes of the Cursed One, and the white mask that
    looked like transparent glass on the inside. What were the right words to say,
    anyway? How would I feel if my father was dead? How would I feel if he was a
    hateful demon?
    He had been in a similar state the first day they met master
    Raizel, when he learnt about the noble’s demon blood. And he didn’t know what
    to do, back then, just like now. This kind of things, obviously, weren’t his
    strong point. Of course, back then, a small joke would be enough to banish that
    irksome feeling. He could do that right now, but his instinct stopped him, for
    an unexplained reason. So, they set off for the portal in awkward silence.



    The wind was howling, and it was heard
    everywhere, as they ran incessantly. At every step he took, Nesto felt his
    senses heightening, and his heart trying to leap out of his chest. Fear lurked
    deep inside of him. The noble seemed to be in a worse state. He was clumsy, and
    had nothing to do with Silan-te’s elegant movements. He made no attempt to
    avoid the branches, and they avenged themselves by ripping his clothes and
    scratching his skin, the way they fell on him. The further they moved, the more
    Cursed Ones they saw. Chances were getting slimmer and slimmer.



    The only redeeming feature was that their
    garments were enough for the few Cursed Ones not to bother taking a second look
    at them.



    Nesto knew they were almost there, when the
    smell of smoke assailed his nostrils, and he saw something that looked like two
    big stone horns jutting above the rest of the trees. The easy part of their
    plan was over, and the hard part, which wouldn’t forgive the slightest slip,
    was now unfolding before their eyes. And they couldn’t just wish in like that,
    not when Daemon was obviously distracted. It was the noble who had accused
    Nesto of getting lost in thought, however he was the one lost now. “Are you
    alright?” he asked him in as low a voice as he could muster, since he was
    hiding behind a bush to observe the territory. Fortunately, no masked man was
    around.



    The smell of smoke was coming from the
    swaying fires burning in some iron baskets placed on tall poles. Two such
    bright lines ended in the wide open jaws of a huge stone dragon with hollow
    eyes. From a distance, it seemed like the dragon was breathing fire. They had
    to go through these jaws to reach the final portal. And Lord Commander Legris
    would be there waiting for them, prepared to slay them with the dragonslayer.



    “I’m perfectly fine,” replied Daemon.



    “Well, you don’t seem like it. If it’s
    because of the demo…”



    “No, it’s not that. It’s nothing. I just
    remembered something that I had long forgotten, and it distracted me. A certain
    memory that I had promised to engrave into my mind. It’s not really that
    important.” It was obvious that it had to do with Tzenon’s death. That demon
    was still torturing him, even after his demise.



    “It certainly isn’t,” said Nesto. “Surely
    no more than our lives.”



    “Yes, probably not.”



    “Good. Because now, we need to stay focused
    if we want to even hope to survive this thing.”



    “I don’t need to hear that from someone
    who, only a while ago, asked me to kill him, commoner.”



    He couldn’t argue that down. At any rate,
    life seemed to have returned to his voice. That was somewhat reassuring.



    Dawn was playing hide-and-seek, together
    with them. It must surely have been waiting impatiently and fearfully for the
    right opportunity. Two Cursed Ones that suddenly took to their heels, right in
    front of them, heading for the mouth of the gigantic dragon made their heart
    beat faster. They stood right at the entrance, with their heads bent over. Lord
    Commander Legris paced towards them, motioning for them to raise their heads.
    He knew it was him, although he had never seen his face, as he wore the silver
    uniform of the Commanders with the Mark of the ancient Gods drawn across his
    chest in purple. His long hair, as well as his thin mantle, were flying in the
    strong wind, while in his hand he held his sword, the famed Dragonslayer.
    Another two Lords dressed in crimson turned up by his side.



    Nesto could barely hear them, but he
    thought they were saying that they had traced the two with the divine blood,
    and they were now chasing them. Which, of course, didn’t make any sense. We
    are right here, and I’m quite positive that no one has sniffed us out.



    The masked men left just as suddenly, while
    the other two Lords followed them, leaving the Lord Commander alone, guarding
    the portal.



    At a glance, it seemed hard to understand
    what was going on. However, it became quite clear—after some thought. This was
    a distraction, just like the dragon, back on the second island, was supposed to
    be. And Lord Zoloc ought to be behind this one, too. He was trying to draw all
    their attention to him. And it was working!



    I partly blame the alignment for this
    kind of thinking. But now, I really feel that we might actually get out of this
    alive.

  • CHAPTER 28

    “It’s him. This is Lord Zoloc’s doing,” he
    said, as he watched Lord Commander Legris go back into the dragon’s stone
    mouth.



    “Yes, there’s no doubt about it,” said
    Daemon. “I’m not entirely sure if I’m happy that he is here, or sad that he is
    still alive.”



    “Oh, you are happy. You just don’t want to
    admit it,” said Nesto. And grateful, too. Because now every single
    Cursed One and Lord, apart from the Lord Commander, that had been summoned to
    hunt them down were eradicated. They were blindly chasing the shadow of Lord
    Zoloc. And, knowing Zoloc, it was almost certain that they would never be able
    to catch it. The combination of his magic and his craftiness would make sure
    Nesto and Daemon had a lot of time on their hands to go through Lord Commander
    Legris’ obstacle. Nestal, his father, could not have hoped to find a better
    ally than him.



    He has succeeded in upsetting both of
    the forces that were sent to shed our divine blood.



    After careful thinking, they concluded that
    facing head-on the Lord Commander wouldn’t be such a good idea. They had better
    play it safe. To keep their disguise on and try tricking him. Surely, an
    opportunity would come for them to make a run for the final portal. They also
    added a small detail to their plan to ensure their success. A detail that was
    mostly inspired by the so many distractions of Lord Zoloc. They’d inform Lord
    Commander Legris that the ones with the godly blood were finally caught and
    slain. Relief and joy will seize his body. And those emotions ought to
    blind him, even if it would be just for a while, for a moment.



    What was needed was for them to wait for
    some time, so that their words would be convincing. Maybe, he would be
    incredulous if they rushed into the dragon’s mouth just now, after the other
    two Cursed Ones had left.



    As he felt scared and jittery, he had no
    memory of that wait, nor could he recall himself leaving the protection of the
    bush. All of a sudden, he caught himself running between the flames, towards
    the dragon’s jaws, with the noble next to him dressed up as a Cursed One. It
    was so sudden that he began to panic. He couldn’t breathe properly, and he kept
    feeling the Deathlord’s spear pierce through his chest. Everything seemed to
    warn him to run away: the howling wind, the black trees all around and, of
    course, the fire burning behind his divine mark. But he chose to ignore them.



    He tried to imagine and mimic Silan-te’s
    elegant movements, but it was far more difficult than it seemed. At least, her
    thought managed to calm him down a bit. They came to a halt, when they were
    under the not so sharp stone teeth, and bent their heads over before the Lord
    Commander. He stood bolt upright, on the alert, while his uniform was stained
    with blood. Nesto hoped it was his.



    He wasn't sure if he had to blame the chaos
    he felt inside because of the alignment, but standing before Legris somehow
    made him feel as if he were standing in front of the dragon he had seen on the
    second level. Even his appearance looked just as menacing—that could partly be
    due to the mask of the Cursed Ones he wore. Who knows what kind of magic
    resided in it! The orange and red flames shed their light on his dark eyes, and
    they looked like they were burning. There were no horns on his head but, were
    he to make a sudden, wrong move, it was almost certain that his sword would
    come chasing him like terrifying jaws. I’m glad he can’t see my face, or
    else he would be able to read my nervousness.



    It was hard not to notice the portal behind
    Lord Commander Legris. A black sea, which looked as if painted exactly where
    the dragon’s throat was supposed to begin.



    He signalled to them to raise their heads.
    “What is it? Have they finally been dealt with?” he asked, and Nesto was
    somewhat surprised that he didn’t breathe fire out of his mouth.



    He let Daemon do the talking. “They have,
    Lord Commander,” he replied, making sure his tone of voice was respectful. “The
    descendant of the dragons and the son of the demon were caught and killed. Lord
    Ereina pierced through their hearts with her sword.”



    Legris was supposed to be the one to feel
    relieved and blissful, but it was Nesto that experienced those emotions when
    the Lord Commander said: “Good. Lead me where they are. I want to witness with
    my own eyes their dead bodies.”



    As soon as they managed to keep him away
    from the portal, everything would be over. They turned around and paced ahead,
    trying to mimic the movements of a Cursed One as well as they could. Nesto was
    thinking that their plan was a success, when he noticed a small straight line
    on the ground, made by a sword probably, exactly at the mouth of the stone
    dragon. It bothered him enough to recall the scene with the two masked men.
    They hadn’t entered the dragon’s mouth, they hadn’t passed the line, he
    recalled. They had stopped at the entrance, and they obediently waited for Lord
    Commander Legris to come out. As if they were scared, or perhaps forbidden to
    set foot inside…But, no matter which of the two, one thing was obvious.



    They weren’t supposed to pass the line!



    The sudden realisation struck him like a
    frozen blade. And then, he heard Legris slowly unsheathing the Dragonslayer.
    Their plan wasn’t a success, after all. He had seen through it from the
    beginning. Daemon turned around at the same time as Nesto. He had probably come
    to the same conclusion, or even sensed the danger, and it was certain that on
    his own chest as well had appeared the Mark of the ancient Gods, burning him
    with its power.



    They just charged right at him. Just like
    that. With no more thinking, no plans, but only the desperate need to survive.
    Because there was only one person standing in their way, because there was a
    small army behind them still looking for them. And, most of all, because they
    were so close, just a few steps away. His father and brother were waiting where
    the portal led. And I’ll make sure to get there, even with a sword through
    my chest, if need be.



    Still, it wasn’t his chest that was at
    risk, but his throat. Lord Commander Legris swung his sword to the side, as
    they jumped on him, and Nesto tried to defend by wielding his glassy dagger. At
    the last moment, one of the noble’s black bolts struck Legris in his right eye.
    And, while Nesto’s dagger was cut in two by the Dragonslayer, his neck was
    still in one piece. The tip of the sword just barely managed to graze it.



    His desperate need for survival ordered his
    body to continue running though. He jumped-rolled forward, disregarding the
    danger, and somehow managed to pass through the Lord Commander and the second
    blade that had materialised in his hand. An acute pang of pain pierced through
    his leg, as he stood up to run again. A deep cut was visible on his knee.
    Still, he kept on hobbling. Pain was the least he was worried about right now.
    He ran away from Legris, away from the shadows cast by the torches, as if hunted
    down, towards the last portal.



    He was almost a breath away from it, when
    he felt that something was wrong. He turned back, expecting to see two blades
    like claws chasing after him. But he didn’t. He only saw Daemon down on his
    knees, unable to move, the Lord Commander pinning him down, with the
    Dragonslayer ready to kiss him on the neck. That’s what’s wrong.



    But he wouldn’t kill him. Not yet. The
    Order of the Lords was baying for the immediate execution of the descendant of
    the dragons. The demon’s son was not their first priority. And he doesn’t
    know which one he is holding.
    He looked him in the eye, his look warning
    him that he would shed the noble’s blood if Nesto dared move.



    One small step and he could leave. Escape
    the Tower, escape to safety. Daemon would probably do it. Or maybe not. I
    can’t be sure. I’ve been wrong about him before. However, I’m not Daemon…



    “One’s own survival always comes first,
    right, son of the demon?” said the noble. And that’s exactly what he was saying
    to him. If he had been in his position, he would have left.



    The liar!



    “I might have been wrong about that.”
    Legris had surely been seriously injured, while still fighting demon Tzenon.
    Now, his wounds had multiplied. He could barely keep his right eye open, while
    Daemon had managed to stick his glassy dagger into his ribs. Nesto saw him
    standing with difficulty. No matter how strong he might be, he wouldn’t hold
    out much longer. If he gained some time, if he could go closer…I can do
    this. Me and Daemon together, we can do it. We can kill him.
    “I am the
    descendant of the dragons,” said Nesto, and he hobbled towards the Lord
    Commander. “It is me you so desperately want to kill. Let him leave. He is just
    the son of the demon, just the lesser evil. Because of me, all the cruel, merciless
    dragons will rise from their graves. I’m the greater evil for you, for the
    Order of the Lords. For the human ra…”



    “He is lying,” the noble claimed. “What are
    you trying to do, you foolish noble? I don’t need your help. I’m a God. I’m the
    true descendant of the dragons.”



    That very moment, Lord Commander Legris
    pulled Daemon’s head back and removed his mask. He smiled when he saw the
    noble’s face. Because he could easily tell he wasn’t the descendant of the
    dragons. His resemblance to Tzenon was quite obvious. Now, he knows who the
    real threat is. He’s going to focus on me, now.
    “You are not a good liar,
    Lord Candidate Daemon. It’s because you are still too young and innocent,” he
    said, his tone of voice somewhat sad. And then, the Dragonslayer pierced
    through the noble’s heart…



    For a moment, Daemon’s eyes shone through,
    red and bloodshot, then went out, and he dropped dead.



    “NOOOOOO!” Nesto
    cried. “Why?” I can’t understand. I just can’t. His mind was desperately
    trying to find a reason. He was the biggest threat the Order should be worried
    about. Their first priority should be to kill Nesto. So, why? Why was he giving
    him the chance to escape? Or did he think that he wouldn’t escape, not now, not
    after watching him kill Daemon?



    If that was the case, then it had worked.
    Rage engulfed him, and the fiery power of the ancient Gods consumed him. Their
    flame seared his eyes, brushed his thoughts aside, and he materialised a
    flaming blade in his hand. He wasn’t going anywhere now…



    He charged at Lord Commander Legris, full
    of hatred, disregarding the pain and the blood that trickled down his leg. He
    attacked him with the burning blade, the broken dagger, even with his head.
    Whatever could be used as a weapon to inflict pain on him. To kill him, if
    possible. Legris seemed taken aback, confused perhaps, by the sudden attack. By
    all that power, all that rage and hatred. He took a step backwards, as he
    fended off Nesto’s blows with his Dragonslayer. He took another step backwards,
    and another one. At the fourth step, the tip of the broken dagger stuck into
    the Lord Commander’s belly. But the sharp blade of the Dragonslayer was already
    stuck into Nesto’s shoulder, and didn’t let him push further and deeper. Just a
    bit more, and he could slice open that belly of his. Nesto’s teeth gritted with
    fury. ARGHHH!



    His rampage came to a stop here. A powerful
    kick sent him flying back. He landed on one of the torches, his white mask
    smashed to pieces, and his head kissed the ground. The bleeding made him dizzy,
    and it was so difficult for him to stand up on his two feet again. He tried to,
    but he was pinned to the cold ground. He had managed to lean on his elbow, when
    he saw Legris overhead, threatening to cut his throat off with his sword. But,
    strangely enough, the Dragonslayer stood there frozen, looking him in the eye.
    He was still a bit dizzy, and his sight was somewhat foggy, so he wasn’t sure
    he understood why the Lord Commander wasn’t killing him.



    Until he saw a man standing next to Legris.
    His one hand prevented the sharp sword from snapping off Nesto’s head, while
    the other pressed the dagger Daemon had earlier stuck into the Lord Commander.
    It was Lord Zoloc. Saving him once more. His clothes were muddy and half-ripped
    from all that running and hiding. His face, though, was composed, as always.



    “You…” That came out of Legris’ mouth like
    a swearword. He gritted his teeth in pain, and with his free hand kept the
    dagger from going deeper into his flesh.



    “Yes, indeed, me,” said Lord Zoloc. “I
    really hope you don’t mind, Lord Commander, but I can’t allow you to kill this
    one, too.”



    The Lord’s presence didn’t manage to make
    Nesto’s rage subside, even slightly. On the contrary, due to that smile hanging
    from his lips, it was burning him even more. Although Daemon was dead, that damn
    Lord wasn’t the least upset. He could, at least, have the decency to hide that
    smile.



    Everything burnt. He was probably turning
    into a pile of ashes because hot smoke billowed out of his nostrils. The pain,
    physically and mentally, was so unbearable that it made him howl like a beast,
    no, like a dragon. Like an infuriated dragon seeking revenge. He wanted Legris
    to experience that kind of pain, the suffering he felt. He wanted to burn him
    alive…



    And burn him he did. All by itself, his
    hand was raised, and all that fire, all that heat left his body like a swirl
    and engulfed the Lord Commander with blue flames, sending his body hurtling
    away. Nesto couldn’t hear his cries, but he hoped it was because he had
    instantly killed him. The flames almost burnt Lord Zoloc. I wish they had. I
    hate him, too.
    If he had appeared sooner, Daemon wouldn’t have had to die.
    He knew it wasn’t Zoloc’s fault, but he wanted it so bad to be.



    He felt his power abandoning him.
    Exhausted. Empty inside. All he managed was to crawl next to Daemon, next to
    that soulless cold body with the dead eyes. A little voice of hope whispered to
    him that the noble might not be dead, that his divine blood had kept him alive.
    Surely, he would wake up soon enough. And, this time, Nesto would be the one to
    make fun of him for being weak.



    But, eventually, that voice died out, just
    like Daemon had. With the strength he had left, he held the noble’s arm as
    tight as he could, hoping his gift would grant him with a memory, at least. One
    where the noble was still breathing. He wanted it so bad. It would give him the
    illusion that Daemon was still alive, that he was still with him. He even
    prayed to the three ancient Gods to give him that one last memory, almost
    forgetting one crucial thing.



    When had the Gods ever favoured him?



    Never! He only had himself to rely on. He
    had no power left to materialise a weapon in his hands, so he used his nails to
    scratch his palm, until it started bleeding. Then, he united it with the
    noble’s blood. At first, nothing happened but, a while before he started to
    scream in despair, everything turned black, and the memory he sought came to
    whisk him off. One last memory of his. I so hope it’s a happy one…



    But, unfortunately, it never was. He saw
    Daemon going away from his father’s castle on the sly, in the dead of night,
    running through the wood. Trying to escape again. Nobody seemed to be hunting
    him down, but the little noble never stopped looking back to make sure. And the
    short twigs didn’t forgive him that carelessness. They scratched him, and snapped
    noisily to give him away. He must have been running for hours, but he didn’t
    stop, even for a single moment, to take a breather.



    He only stopped when he got out of the
    wood. And that was because he came across a black carriage. His demon father
    stood next to it, the stars over his head, while another one, a younger —but
    still old—, Velmar, held the bridles. Tzenon pointed to the carriage, and the
    boy obediently entered it.



    “If I remember correctly, it’s been exactly
    one year since you last tried to escape,” said his father, as the carriage
    turned back. “You turn ten today. Tell me, Daemon, why do you always try to
    escape on your birthday?” The noble did not reply. He did not even look at him,
    his gaze turned outside the window. “Is it because of what I said on your
    eighth birthday?”



    “I’m sorry, I never pay attention when you
    talk. What did you say, dear father?” asked Daemon, pretending to be
    absentminded. Tzenon simply smiled and said nothing.



    Later on, in his room, Velmar brought him
    food and water. “This is for all that running you did,” he said in a strict
    tone. “And this,” he gave him a small greenish book, and a kiss on his
    forehead, “this is a gift for your tenth birthday, young master.” That made the
    noble smile. He didn’t touch his food; he lay in bed, holding the book, and
    started to leaf through it. The servant opened the door to leave but, before he
    did, he turned back to say, “I’m sorry for my indiscretion, but what was it
    that your father told you on your eighth birthday, and makes you try to escape
    on the same day every year?”



    “I honestly don’t remember, Velmar,” said
    Daemon, looking at the book, avoiding the servant’s eyes.



    “I know when you lie to me, young master.
    Come on, spill it. There is no one you trust more than me.”



    The little noble didn’t tear his eyes from
    the book, and thought for a while before telling him. “He said the day I would
    leave, he would die…because he loves me more than anything in this world.”

  • CHAPTER 29

    It started raining again. The worst kind of
    rain…tears.



    He wanted to just stay there, next to
    Daemon, and cry his heart out, but Lord Zoloc had a different opinion. He
    reminded him that the entire force of the Order was still chasing him, and that
    his father and brother were waiting for him on the other side of the Portal. At
    the top of the Tower of the Lords.



    But even this wasn’t enough. He had to tear
    him away from the noble with force, for Nesto’s hands were tightly clenched
    around his arm. He half-walked, half-dragged him to the portal. “Now, it’s
    finally over,” he said, as he pushed him in.



    Over? Over for whom? Surely not for me. The
    pain of Daemon’s death would haunt him throughout his life. So would the Order
    of the Lords. It would never be over. Not until I die. The black sea of
    the portal engulfed him, its darkness similar to his own, and it somehow felt
    right, more appropriate. A lot more appropriate than the white, frozen world
    that turned up before him. The dim light hurt. It demanded more helpful
    thoughts. Thoughts about home, about Garon, Almar, and Nestal. And it was too
    soon to demand something like that.



    He plunged knee-high into the snow. When he
    looked around him, it was a uniform scene. Snow, huge mountaintops, and
    absolutely no sign of life. The cold must have been enough to freeze even his
    bones, but he was too numb to feel it, to care. Nesto had survived the ritual
    for the Lord Candidates without being favoured by any of the three ancient
    Gods. He entered the Tower, escaped the claws of a dragon, and fooled the
    forces of the Order. And he was finally here now, he had reached the top.



    But, contrary to what Almar had promised,
    there was no one waiting for him…



    His thoughts became darker again, despite
    all the white uniformity that surrounded him. And he couldn’t help but think
    that Nestal and Almar were probably dead, killed by the Order. Or even that
    they had abandoned him once more. That was the sole reason he didn’t want
    anyone to get too close to him. For, when they went away, when they deserted
    him, they would take a piece out of him, thus deepening the void within. And,
    no matter what, they were all bound to abandon him, eventually, right?



    He lay on the snowy ground. He had nowhere
    to go, and he was tired. Really, really tired. He feared that, if he shut his
    eyes, he wouldn’t be able to open them again. But, maybe, that was for the
    best. Maybe, I should have died, along with the noble. That last memory
    he had seen was reeling in his mind, as he lost his senses. Did it by any
    chance mean that it was Daemon’s birthday today?



    If so, happy birthday, then, my dear
    friend.



    He came round only for a while, when he
    heard some voices. He half-opened his eyes, and saw a man, with a slash across
    his face, standing over him. Lord Cornius. “Congratulations, Lord
    Candidate Nesto,” he said. “You succeeded in acquiring the so desirable title
    of a Lord. Too bad you won't be keeping it for long, though.”



    His eyes closed and, when they opened
    again, he found himself lying on an old bed. The room was small and somewhat
    damp, while an oil lamp was burning, trying to brighten it. It looked like the
    room he had, back in the Black Castle. Only its door seemed to open from the
    outside. There was no doubt about it. The Order had finally captured him. He
    was completely naked, while his wounds had been treated and bandaged. An unnecessary
    act. He was going to die, sooner or later.



    He tried to call forth the fiery power of
    the ancient Gods to keep warm, but nothing happened. The Mark didn’t appear on
    his chest, while the one across his ribs was barely visible; it was hazy and
    almost shorn of its bright blue colour. Even that flame was gone. He was
    powerless.



    He looked around and found several thick
    woollen clothes scattered, but folded, around the room. He put them on. A blond
    servant with brown eyes knocked on the door, a while later, and brought him
    some hot soup with small pieces of meat, and burnt bread. Nesto asked him where
    he was, if he had somehow returned to the Black Castle. “You’re still at the
    top of the Tower of the Lords, Lord Nesto,” replied the servant.



    Lord Nesto. That
    title sounded so weird to him, but preferable to “the descendant of the
    dragons” or “the greatest evil.” At least officially, he was a Lord. “And what
    exactly is at the top of the Tower?” Nesto asked.



    “The headquarters of the Order of the
    Lords, of course. What else would there be?”



    “Oh…yes, of course,” said Nesto in a
    melancholy tone. That was perhaps the last thing he had been expecting to hear.
    All this time, instead of getting away from them, he had been actually getting
    deeper and deeper into their hands. First, it was their entering the Tower, now
    their headquarters. Were they, Nestal and Almar, really trying to save him, or
    just condemn him once and for all? To me, it seems that they didn’t have the
    heart to kill me with their own hands, and chose to let the Lords do it by
    pushing me into the Tower.



    As the servant left, Nesto noticed that the
    door that held him captive was made of wood. Not only that. There was no guard
    outside. For a moment, it struck him as odd, until he remembered where he was.
    In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Not to mention
    the total absence of the Mark. Escape was deemed impossible.



    He had a few mouthfuls of food, then lay
    down in bed, letting thoughts whisk him off far away. To a different ending. Daemon
    was alive, and they had gone through the last portal together. And Nesto’s
    father and brother were waiting for him at the top of the Tower of the Lords.
    These thoughts were all he had left.



    The next day, after breakfast, Lord
    Cornius, along with two Cursed Ones, stepped into his small cell. They informed
    him that they had orders to prepare him before leading him to the hall where
    his trial would be held. Where his fate would be decided. They hadn’t mobilised
    their entire force, just to let him live, in the end. That was only a typical
    process as Nesto already had the title of the Lord. That was the reason why the
    servant was polite to him. Even the Cursed Ones didn’t look too cold. Because
    of the hateful title.



    “It’s a shame Lord Commader Legris didn’t manage
    to kill both the descendant of the dragons and the child of the demon,” said
    Lord Cornius, as he showed him the way with pretentious politeness. “But, at
    least, he got rid of the most dangerous one. That damn noble!”



    The most dangerous one? Was he so averse to
    the nobles as to actually prefer the death of Daemon to the one that would
    bring back the dragons? No, that couldn’t be it. There had to be a deeper
    meaning to that. A proper explanation that wasn’t based on pure hatred alone.
    But he was too mad to ask anything with the same pretentious kindness. “How’s
    your beloved friend, Lord Mendax?” he said in response. “Still dead?” That
    wiped the fake smile off the Lord’s face. Good, he thought. He couldn’t stand
    that feigned kindness.



    Preparation involved a visit to the baths,
    which were above his cell. Most likely, they didn’t just want to make sure
    Nesto would be standing clean and tidy before the leaders of the Order of the
    Lords. Those baths looked similar to the ones back at the Black Castle. Numerous
    green and purple crystals jutted out, while the surface of the water gave off a
    golden colour. “It suppresses the Mark of the ancient Gods,” the masked men
    told him. Which explained why he couldn’t call forth their power earlier. This
    surely wasn’t the first time he would be bathed in it. “Just to be on the safe
    side, we have to render you powerless.”



    He took off his clothes, and dipped into
    the cold water, which jogged his memories of the first day in the baths hall:
    the thousand commoners who died, the twenty or so candidates, the ritual of the
    Mark, and the lack of favour from all three ancient Gods. It was somewhat funny
    in its own twisted way because he had been the one least expected to survive,
    and yet he was the only one still alive.



    After soaking in the golden water and his
    memories for quite some time, he was escorted by the Cursed Ones and the Lord
    to the higher levels. There was white marble everywhere, and almost all floors
    looked so much alike, as if they had been made up of snow. Statues and paintings
    adorned the place, but their beauty was no match for the view the windows and
    verandahs afforded. The headquarters of the Order were built on the side of a
    high mountain, and a look beneath was enough to overshadow the beauty of all
    the rest. Lords and servants filled most halls, verandahs, and corridors. They
    all looked at him with feigned kindness, talking in hushed voices.



    The hall of the trial was at the top. Six
    old, skinny persons with grey, almost white, hair awaited him, seated on their
    tall chairs that looked like small thrones. Nesto didn’t really care about the
    trial, about this formal procedure, that’s why he blocked out almost whatever
    had to do with it. He cared more about his memories, about the past. And not
    when his future would end. What he managed to register was that one of the
    seven heads of the Order could not attend because of the wounds he had
    received. And that was because he realised that they were talking about Lord
    Commander Legris. It’s a shame that I couldn’t kill him. That, at least, I
    couldn’t take revenge for Daemon’s death. It seems I’m not capable of doing
    even that.



    “Do you have anything to say in your
    defence?” he was asked at some point.



    Of course, he didn’t. I don’t know what
    they accused me of, but I’m quite sure I’m guilty of it.
    “No, no. Nothing
    at all,” he replied lifelessly, while shaking his head. All his energy had been
    drained. He had no strength even to hate them. He suspected the baths were the
    cause of that.



    The trial seemed to come to an end before it
    even began. And the verdict was unanimous, as expected. Death penalty! What
    was left was the King’s approval, then everything would be gone. He would be
    stripped of all the layers of protection the title provided him with. But this
    was going to last for a few days, as he was informed. The masked men took him
    back to his cell.



    Days went by with him doing the same
    things. He ate, drank, slept, and once a day the Cursed Ones came to lead him
    to the baths to make sure Nesto would remain powerless. He felt nothing, not
    even a hint of fear. He might be expecting his death, but in fact he was
    already dead. He wasn’t sure if he had to blame the baths for that but, apart
    from the fire of the ancient Gods, the very spark of life had died out inside
    of him.



     

  • On the morning of the fifth day, they
    brought him breakfast, as usual, but Nesto was off his food. He felt no hunger,
    and he was in no mood for life. He lay in bed. But, strangely enough, the
    servant didn’t leave; he only looked around, and made a grimace. “Well, at
    least the food is not so bad,” he said. “You cannot complain about that.”



    It took him some time to realise it. He sat
    up, then looked the servant in the eye to make sure. It wasn’t difficult for
    him to make out the servant’s eyes in the dim light. They were green! “Lord
    Zoloc,” he said in a low voice, although there was no one at the door to hear
    him.



    “You look…I was going to say fine, but you
    look awfully lifeless. What kind of tortures have those savages subjected you
    to?”



    “They haven’t.”



    “Well, that seems to be quite effective on
    you,” the Lord said, and threw a red apple to him.



    Nesto let it hit the wall and drop to the
    ground. “Are they dead?” he asked. “Nestal and Almar, my father and brother.
    Are they dead?” The Lord slightly nodded, and that was more than enough. “If
    you came to help me escape, then don’t. I don’t want to,” he said. He had
    nowhere to go anymore. And he was sick of running and hiding all the time. It
    was pointless. In the end, everything he had done proved to be pointless.



    “There is hardly any need for that. The
    King is not going to consent to your death penalty. Now that the alignment is
    over, and the dragons are awakening one by one, you are more valuable to him
    alive than dead.”



    That sounded to him more indifferent than
    reassuring. “Then, what are you doing here? You are not here to pay me a visit,
    are you?” He tried to sound ironic, but he failed, even in that.



    The Lord shut the wooden door behind him,
    and leant against it. “No, not really,” he said. “I just wanted to give you the
    flame, the motivation you will need to survive the depressing after-effects of
    the ordeal that you just went through. Besides, there is one last story that I
    want to share with you. Actually, I came mostly for the story.”



    “A story? You sneaked into the Order of the
    Lords, killing the servant and taking his form, just to tell me a story?”



    “More or less. It’s a really good story. It
    has nothing to do with all these dull stories Lord Cornius recounts, I promise.
    It’s a story mostly about you. Would you care to listen to it?” he asked, but
    he didn’t wait for an answer.



    Zoloc told him about the White Lords, about
    Tzenon and their battle, about things that Nesto already knew. And then, he
    told him about things he didn’t know. “Your father was one of the noted White
    Lords,” he said. “He gave his life in that battle, in order to protect Daemon,
    thus forcing Tzenon to promise he would take care of you. When dying, he
    revealed that the Lords would want to kill you, too, because you shared the
    same mark. The mark of a God. The responsibility of raising you redounded on
    the demon. Yet, those hands were already more than full. That’s where I come
    up.”



    Lord Zoloc had been at Tzenon’s service
    since ever, as he pointed out. It was he who had left them with Garon with that
    letter, having assumed Nestal’s form. And that of the storyteller. He had been
    the storyteller all along. He would often disguise himself as such to pay them
    a visit and make sure that Nesto’s mark was not revealed. But, eventually, it
    was. In the sixteen years of his life, his divine blood would awaken, and the
    Cursed Ones would become aware of his presence. Then, the hunt would commence,
    more fierce and ruthless than ever. Because the alignment would be on the
    cards, threatening the entire world.



    There was never anyone waiting for him at
    the top—Almar had actually died in the Black Castle, reduced to ashes from the
    fiery power of the ancient Gods. It was merely a small part of a thorough plan
    that was devised by Zoloc to lead Nesto to the Tower of the Lords. They did the
    same to the noble, so that Zoloc could keep both Daemon and Nesto safe there.
    Even Silan-te was a simple pawn in his plan. “Tzenon made sure to lure almost
    the entire force of the Order away, and I made sure to keep you hidden until
    the alignment was over,” he concluded.



    I can actually see my whole world
    dissolving in front of my eyes.
    He let it all
    slowly sink in, but it was hard. And it was even harder to accept. He found
    himself laughing again nervously. After finding out that he had the blood of
    the Gods inside of him, everything else should seem believable, and yet this
    was so hard to believe. Daemon might have called it horrible, ridiculous even.
    Just like every other plan of Lord Zoloc’s. But Daemon was dead. He breathed
    his last in the Tower, despite this “thorough” plan. Just thinking about it
    maddens me.
    “Well, it didn’t work,” said Nesto, blaming him for it. “You
    failed. In the end, Daemon died.”



    “Yes. It was unfortunate, but Daemon had to
    die,” said the Lord, then carried on, talking to him about the alignment, about
    the barrier that separated the two worlds being destroyed because of the noble,
    or something like that, but Nesto’s mind clung to these first words.



    “Daemon had to die.” There were so many
    things hidden behind those words.



    “You wanted him dead, too, didn’t you?”
    Nesto demanded, even though an answer was unnecessary. Of course he did. He
    knew this would happen. Wasn’t he, after all, the one that had been pulling the
    strings all this time? He had planned it all along. Surely, he hadn’t turned up
    by chance, after the noble had died, to save the Lord Commander. He was waiting
    for his death. And Legris, Legris knew Daemon’s name. Lord Zoloc must have been
    the one to have informed the Order about the existence of the demon’s son.



    Although the baths were suppressing the
    fiery power of the Gods, a small flame started burning on his chest, and its
    warmth spread everywhere, awakening him, filling the void within with rage.
    More and more emotions were constantly bursting out of him. It was so powerful
    that his head was about to burst. He got out of bed, and instantly felt the
    whole world reeling. He could barely stand without falling.



    “You lied!” he accused him. About
    everything. My father, my brother, but mostly about Daemon.
    “You promised
    me that you would protect him.”



    The Lord got up to him, held his hand, and
    steadied him with his grip. “Didn’t your brother warn you?” he asked, after
    shaking his head in a disappointed manner. When he smiled, his green eyes shone
    in the dark. Zoloc let go of Nesto’s hand, and the world started going around
    again. The fall was imminent.



    He never said the words. Yet, Nesto could
    hear them being whispered in his ears, as he was going down. “Trust no one!”





    END OF BOOK 1

  • And that's the end of book 1!

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    The Best Author In The World (probably... or not.)
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