Else, a cautious but inquisitive fox investigated the recent battle site between the Knight’s and the golems. It hesitantly trotted under a fallen tree, sniffing all the bizarre scents as it went.
The ground was more rubble than soil, as if the very gods themselves has reached down and tilled it, burying trees and golems alike. Dominick’s gift was both awe inspiring and terrifying.
Suddenly a rock shifted, startling the fox. Rather than run though, the creature moved closer, investigating the spot. It smelled strongly of iron, and something indistinguishable, ethereal even. More stones began to shift, and gradually a massive figure pulled itself from the ground. Realising this was not a safe place to be, the fox dashed to the safety of the woods but no further, choosing to stay and see what happened next.
Soon a second figure followed, and a third after that. Every giant was caked in dirt and spewed clouds of dust with every movement but under the grime ebony black armour, traced with gold, could still be seen. Over the next few minutes a dozen more of the beasts erupted from the ground. Then, as one, they began to march directly towards Greymalkin.
At this moment, Charles broke his psychic connection with the fox and reeled from what he had just witnessed.
“Oh gods, no,”
Ororo put herself between Dominick and Khert, breaking his line of sight. Before grabbing him by the shoulders and looking deep into his eyes.
“He is a friend, be calm!” she stated forcefully, adding, “He won’t hurt you,” a little softer when she realised she was probably adding to his fear. After a few breaths the shaking subsided, until it was gone altogether.
“I’m sorry,” croaked Dominick. Ororo passed him her cup of water from supper and he drank deeply.
“I…I apologise,” said Khert sadly, “I know I am…scary, I should not have come. I shal go and fetch Lord Xavier,” Awkwardly, the elf bent his legs, as if about to leap in the air and teleport away, but thought the better of it and straightened up, before leaving through the door.
“What was that?” asked Dominic nervously.
“He is Khert, and while he looks like a monster, you really have nothing to fear. We are all your friends here, we shall keep you safe,”
“Where is here?” the young man rose from the bed slowly, winching in pain from his aching muscles, and looked around the room. Ororo was thankful H’nk had left the man dressed when he treated his wounds and put him in bed.
“This is Castle Greymalkin, home of Lord Xavier and his wards. We’re all gifted, like you. Blessed by the gods with abilities beyond mortal man,”
Dominick sighed, “I wish everyone else saw it that way,”
“One day I hope. Our Lord works everyday to created harmony between the blessed and the mundane people of the world,”
“Harmony?” asked Dominic incredulously, “my own father tried to split my head open with a pick axe, because I was a demon seed. How is there any chance of harmony with people like that?”
“It is difficult work, but I believe with all my heart it can be done. The gods gave us these gifts for a reason,”
Something in Ororo’s voice seemed to reach through the man’s wall of anger, as he appeared to almost collapse in on himself, “Perhaps you’re right…I just don’t think they’ll ever trust us. We…we’re dangerous…” tears began to well in his eyes and he covered his ears with his hands, as if to block out silent voices.
“Are you well?” Ororo asked, placing a concerned hand on his shoulder.
He pulled away and gazed out the window, his eyes focusing on something far away. After a moment his pained face turned to shock. Ororo followed his gaze and realised in horror that part of Greymalkin village was ablaze.
Villagers screamed in terror as the relentless golems marched through their town. None of the iron monstrosities raised an enormous hand against the peasant folk but they refused to let walls and carts block their path.
Quickly flames had erupted in the north-west corner of town, the result of a golem indifferently smashing through a blacksmith’s forge, and were rapidly spreading. Those who stood up against the soulless machines found their swords and pitchforks next to useless against such goliaths. So when the great gates of Castle Greymalkin opened the people cheered in relief; the Knight of Greymalkin would bring deadly vengeance down upon these bizarre invaders.
Logan, Scott, H’nk and Jean charged through the gates on horseback, whilst Ororo sailed high above the castle walls on a current of air. From her vantage point she could clearly see each golem and directed her comrade to their location with carefully aimed lightning bolts.
While the other rode quickly to where she directed, the former false goddess summoned forth a mighty rain to quench the fires that were quickly consuming Greymalkin’s north-west. Her task completed, she turned her attention back to the fight below.
Rather than fight the multitude of golems, the foursome instead focusing on getting the villagers to safety, and attempting to direct the golems away from people’s homes. Surprisingly, after doing nothing to harm the villagers, the golems immediately turned violent upon seeing the knights. Perhaps they recognised them as a threat from the last fight?
One golem took a swing at H’nk, which nearly took his head off. Thankfully the nimble acrobat managed to dodge aside, before leaping upon the attacking golem. Though strong, his hands did little to damage the armoured foe. A second foe charged in to attack H’nk, and Ororo, reacting on instinct, launched him into the air with a whirlwind. The attacking golem ended up putting its fist through the first.
Ororo watched in fascination as a flame, too golden to be natural, spewed forth from the damaged golem. The attacking golem stumbled back, its arm a mess of molten slag, whilst the damaged golem fell to the ground a lifeless husk, its body now free of magical flame.
Unfortunately that only took one golem out of the fight, and at least a dozen still remained. Nearby, Jean struggled to hold back two golems while Logan rushed a boy at risk of being trampled to safety. Scott was busy attempting to hold back three more of the beasts but the fight was definitely not in his favour.
My knights, you must retreat to the castle! Called Xavier in their minds. I fear they only want to harm those blessed by the gods. Lure them away from the village now, before more innocents are hurt.
Dominick paced the courtyard nervously; those monsters were here for him because of the horrible thing he had done!
Ororo, the beautiful woman who had saved him from the beasts, had left him alone with the blue demon and a strange one-legged bald man. Surprisingly, the demon was extremely friendly, and not what he would expect from something so terrifying. The bald man, whom Khert told him was lord of the castle, stood stock still, leaning on his crutch with his eyes shut tightly.
A sudden breeze had him looking to the heavens; Ororo had returned. The woman looked amazing descending from the sky, and Dom almost began to believe they were blessed by the gods.
“Are you hurt?” he dared to place a hand on her shoulder. Battle was no place for a lady.
“I am well Dominick, thank you,” she replied, with an awkward glance to her comrade, a large ape like fellow, who was watching them both intently.
“Shut the doors!” yelled Xavier, suddenly snapping from his reverie.
Scott and Logan moved to shut the great oak gates but Jean beat them to it, shutting them tight and placing the cross beam without even a twitch of her little finger.
Xavier looked to Khert, “To the wall Khert, assess the situ…” Khert was up on the ramparts before he could even finish, “…ation,”
“They are almost here! I count thirteen of them!” he yelled down. He cursed like no monk should as a boulder narrowly missed his head and crashed into Ororo’s garden, “they threw that! At me!” he teleported back down, “What did I do?!”
“Our only chance is if we work as a team,” stated Charles, “We can’t focus on holding these things back, they’re relentless, we need to take them down,”
“Fat lot of luck we’ve been having so far,” grumbled Logan.
“Scott, Jean, Ororo, you’re our best chances of hurting these monsters. Focus on rupturing their armour and releasing their lifefire, like you saw in the village…” an audible thump on the gate broke his attention. Another and another soon followed it, until sizable cracks began to form in the thick wood.
“Logan, H’nk and Khert, do your best to distract the golems while the other’s fight them,” added Charles quickly.
“What are you going to do?” asked a concerned Jean.
“I’m going to attempt to contact these things mentally. If they have some semblance of life they must have some semblance of a mind also,” he grabbed Khert’s shoulder, “take me to the Cerebras chamber,” the pair disappeared in a cloud of dark smoke, though Khert returned a few seconds later.
Dominick had been forgotten, and was left standing as far from the gates as possible. He wanted nothing more than to run, but he had nowhere to go that these beasts wouldn’t find him. He could only watch in terror as the gates suddenly burst open and armoured death came marching in.
Charles sat in silence within his specially made Cerebras chamber, desperately trying to block out the noise of battle from outside. A multitude of magical runes blazed blue, enhancing his telepathic powers tenfold.
He quickly left his mortal body and surveyed the battle taking place in the courtyard. Due to the size of the golems, only three had made it through the gates so far, but it would not be long before the wall came down, and the iron tide of destruction came charging in.
Jean held one beast in place, whilst Scott repeatedly blasted its torso with his eye blasts; a tactic that was slowly working, as a large crack was beginning to form in the beast’s armour. Meanwhile, Ororo was raining thunderbolts down upon another golem, while H’nk and Logan kept it distracted. The creature was beginning to glow red hot, its movements much slower and jerky. Finally, Khert teleported rings around the third, keeping it constantly spinning in a circle as it attempted to fight the nimble elf.
Charles focused his attention on the third golem, cautiously reaching out mentally to touch the magical creature’s mind. The thing’s mind was white hot and he reeled back immediately. After a moment’s preparation, he plunged deep into the construct’s psyche, if one could call it that. Xavier was stunned by the sheer simplicity of he thing’s mind.
Sentinel serves the master. Sentinel finds the hellbreed. Sentinel kills the hellbreed. Sentinel serves the master. Sentinel finds the hellbreed. Sentinel kills…
“But why?” he called. There was no response.
He attempted to halt the creature, the Sentinel, but it’s the nature of its mind was too alien. Its thoughts cycled continuously, but every time he tried to clutch them, in an attempt to change them, they would turn to ash and form again elsewhere. Never before had he encountered a mind formed from magical flame; every moment he spent within the golems mind it grew drastically hotter.
Quickly he broke the connection, collapsing to floor of his chamber, relishing the cool stone against his head. It was difficult to concentrate after such an experience; his very thoughts sent hot waves of pain throughout his whole brain. After a moment he collected himself and sat up.
A large shudder reverberated through the entire castle, shaking dust loose from the ceiling. His students were in pain, he could feel it; and after his failure to defeat the Sentinels mentally, he knew he only had one option left.
The clang of metal on stone, shouts of defiance, howling wind; these things filled Ororo’s ears, until it was almost too difficult to think. The northern wall had collapsed; the rumbled of collapsing stone was perhaps the most devastating sound the group had heard since Magnus annihilated Nabras. With their one advantage gone, there was little chance of standing against the beasts.
The full contingent of golems quickly marched into the courtyard and selected their targets. Despite their best efforts, the knights had unfortunately been separated and were quite vulnerable. Jean and Scott stood side by side in Ororo’s devastated garden, Logan was cornered near the destroyed gate, H’nk stood defensively with Dominick by the castle doors, and Khert was doing his best to teleport between all parties.
Ororo meanwhile, watched from above, calling wind and ice and lightning down upon the relentless monsters. She couldn’t help but feel shame from remaining above the battle; if this was to be their last stand, she would do it on the ground, besides those she loved.
In but a moment she was on her feet beside a shocked H’nk, “What are you doing? Get back up there where you’re safe!”
“No H’nk, I won’t abandon you! You’ve been like a brother to me!” This seemed to wound to man more than anything.
“H’nk, what is it?” she asked, but rather than reply he pushed her aside as a giant golem fist smashed the ground right where she had stood.
Dominick helped her to her feet while H’nk leaped upon the golem in and almost suicidal move. He beast upon the creatures head, to little avail, his eyes red with tears.
“Run!” he screamed.
“Come on!” yelled Dominic, pulling her by the arm into the castle.
“My family’s out there!” she wrenched her arm free and made to run back outside, but golem suddenly burst through the wall. Wood and stone exploded through the air and one stone clipped her in the temple, dazing her.
The golem charged forward, but a wave of stone and floor tiled bowled it over and severely damaging the entranceway to the castle. The beast tried to rise to its feat but another, larger wave engulfed the creature, as well as causing the banisters above to groan. Dominick, in his fear, was structurally damaging the castle.
“Stop!” she cried, but another wave rose, and another, “You’re going to bring the castle down upon us!”
“They’re going to kill us!” he screamed back, “It was an accident, I didn’t mean to hurt her!”
“They don’t care, they just want to kill us all! The normals, they’ll keep trying…”
“No Dominick, we’re making things better!”
“Shut up!” in his rage and frustration, the young man slapped her across the face.
His eyes widened in horror as her realised what he had done; never in his life would he intentionally hurt a woman, and yet he had struck the one person who had been kindest to him since his curse had manifested. Panic began to set in, and his breath became shallower. Before he knew it he was gasping for air. The ground began to rumble also, as if it was an extension of his body. Cracks formed in the floor, outside Ororo could hear the cries of surprise as more of the north wall collapsed.
If she didn’t act he would bring the whole castle down. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, before blasting him with small lightning bolts from her hands. The young man collapsed in a heap and thankfully the rumbling ceased also. She didn’t breathe until she saw the gentle rise and fall of his chest; he was still alive.
A prone H’nk smashed through the half open door, followed by the golem he had been fruitlessly assaulting. His limp body landed just short of Ororo’s feet and she cried out in despair. The relentless construct marched ever forward as the weather witch tried to drag her friend to safety.
Indoors there was little room to fly, and they would still be within reach of their assailant. Instead, she summoned forth the most devastating winds she could in an effort to hold it back. Ice and sleet jammed its joints but it still marched forward. Bolt after bolt of lightning stuck the thing, and while it began to show signed of wear it would not die soon enough.
“I…love you,” gasped H’nk, barely more than a whisper.
She said nothing in reply, instead holding her dear friend close as the golem raised his massive fist to deal the killing blow. But the blow never came. The beast stood there frozen in mid strike. All sound of battle had suddenly ceased.
After half dragging the barely conscious H’nk to the other side of the room, she ran outside to witness every golem standing as still as statues. Scott and Jean stood closeby, the squire with his arm wrapped protectively around Jean. They took were as surprised by this as Ororo.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Him,” replied Logan, pointing to the sky.
There, thirty feet above them floated a man enmeshed in heavy red armour; Magnus. A man with the power to command metal, who was dedicated to the domination of the unblessed people by those he saw as chosen by the gods to rule. Only recently had the knights clashed with him, a fight that resulted in their utter defeat and the slaughter of everybody in Nabras.
Scott reacted first, firing several eyeblasts at the villain. Each one failed to hit their mark, instead reflecting off a sphere of energy. The fist of a nearby golem suddenly swung out, striking Scott and throwing him forward.
“Foolish boy, this is how you repay me for saving your life?!” Yelled Magnus haughtily, drifting closer to the ground. Ororo noticed in their few encounters, the man always chose to remain above his foes, perhaps emphasising that he saw them as beneath him.
“No…this is how I repay you for killing everyone I held dear…” groaned Scott, who made an effort to remove his glasses again but couldn’t find the strength.
“They tried to kill you, young Summerset. They reaped what they had sown. The gods don’t need them anymore and it’s about time you learn that,”
“You’re a false prophet Magnus!” yelled Jean, “you use the name of the gods to further your own sick vendetta against the world,”
“My vendetta? My dear, they are the ones who built these abominations to hunt and kill every last one of us,”
“How do you know about any of this?” asked Ororo, who was ready to blast him from the sky with the slightest provocation.
“I called him here,” Xavier hobbled outside, his face a tormented mix of shame and relief at the fact his family were alive.
“Stepfather!” gasped Jean.
“I am sorry Jean, but I was desperate. Without Erik, you would all be slain and I could not bear the thought,” tear welled in his eyes.
“Why did you help us?” Ororo asked Magnus.
“I did not do it for you, weather witch, I did it for Charles,” he actually looked upon the Lord with a modicum of respect, going so far as floating almost down to ground level with the man.
“Erik, thank you…”
“Please Charles, refrain from using my mortal name. Unlike you I refuse to shackle myself to the unworthy. I thank you for bringing this vile attack to my attention. Mankind shall be punished dearly for this disrespect,”
“Erik, don’t punish innocents for the misguided acts of a few,” Charles pleaded.
“Open your eyes Charles! This isn’t the work of a dirty, bigoted villager. The royal family is behind this, I assure you, and I swear by the gods who bless me, they will suffer!”
“King Elehan is a good, fair man…”
“Enough of your delusions!” As the madman screamed, every Sentinel present was spontaneous crushed until they were barely recognisable.
Magnus drifted rapidly into the air, looking down upon Charles and his Knights with disdain “The dam has burst Charles, the war is here. It’s time to make a choice; are you with the gods, or the unworthy curs?”
Xavier stared intently at his old friend, his face awash with pain, but he did not reply.
“Very well,” said Magnus grimly, as he drifted away into the distance.
A moment later, the Sentinel from within the castle, the one that had been about to kill Ororo and H’nk, floated through the hole in the wall. Unlike the others it was uncrushed; Ororo surmised Magnus was keeping this one in tact as a beacon to draw more gifted to him.
As it floated rapidly after Magnus, Ororo and the Knights were shocked to see Dominick clinging to its back.
“I’m sorry,” he called, “he’s the only one who can protect me from them,” his voice grew distant as the golem disappeared into the night sky.
All the Knights, save the unconscious H’nk, gathered together in the courtyard, taking in the scene of devastation around them and slowly realising that this night was only the beginning. Charles stared long and hard at the sky, where Magnus had long ago drifted from sight. His thoughts were clouded, but Jean could sense a deep turmoil.
Khert looked around the group, confused, “So who was that guy?”