The Centurion Cycle: Book Four ~ The Road to the Future

Chapter Twenty~Seven: The Final Choice

For days now Korish had walked the halls of an empty palace, his friends, servants, and guards all gone. Still, he continued to deny the truth; that his granite palace had become a mausoleum to his reign.

"Is this all they have left me?" Korish's voice echoed. The throne room, with its giant pink granite pillars supporting the twenty-foot-high ceiling, let the emperor's voice echo across the cavernous chamber.

As his voice bounced around the chamber, Korish felt his anger rise. He had done all that the clerics had asked, and what had they done? They had left him as a figurehead… a man whose time has passed.

As his feelings of betrayal rose, so did his murderous thoughts. "Guards!"

Nothing…

"Guards!"

"GUARDS!" Korish shouted again, spittle flying out of his mouth.

His eyes now red with rage, Korish stared at the entrance to the chamber, waiting for any sign of a guard, let alone any of his servants. Suddenly he felt a firm hand grip his left shoulder, triggering him to jump out off his gold throne. He was soon shoved down on the floor.

He landed face first, the air knocked out of him. Rolling over as fast as he could, Korish could only see the two black voids of the plucked eyes of the old cleric. It was the same one who had set Korish down the path of killing Rojan over a month ago.

"You did this to me!" Korish accused, shaking his fist at the blind man.

Calmly the old man sat himself on Korish's throne, looking more regal, even in his dirty red robes, than any of the emperors who had ever sat on the Sun Throne.

"I am a servant of Kaal… you are, however, nothing more than my servant," the old cleric replied sternly.

Standing back on his feet, Korish took three long strides to where the blind cleric was sitting, until he was hovering over him. "I the Emperor of Lahore, the mouth, eyes, and ears of Kaal! I did not agree to have my son killed just for a three-year-old orphan to replace me!"

Like a dart, the cleric drew a knife out from his sleeve, the tip pressed against Korish's neck. "If you had not done as Kaal demanded then you would have died with your son… or is this sudden dissatisfaction with the will of Kaal a wish to share your son's fate?" the blind man demanded to know. He pressed the knife harder against the emperor's throat until it cut into the skin, a line of blood flowing down Korish's neck.

"No… no…" Korish, his face pale and clammy, replied as he took a step back.

The blind cleric let the knife follow after the emperor, standing up so the tip remained pressed against Korish's neck as he tried to move back. "On your knees, servant!"

Ready to turn and run, Korish suddenly heard the slapping sound of sandals from behind. Soon he felt two firm hands pressing him down onto his knees.

For a long moment there was silence, the blood from Korish's neck now running up the blade of the cleric's knife only to drop from the wooden handle to splatter red on the white shirt and trousers Korish was wearing.

"You will do as Kaal demands of you," the old blind cleric said coldly.

During the twilight of his reign, Korish found himself stripped of everything… of power, pride, honor, and the life of his eldest son. All, he had given up in the belief he had no other choice.

Even though his own chin hid the sight of most the blade from him, Korish could see an inch of it just above the handle. It was marred with red blotches.

On his knees, humbled by a blind man and his followers around him, Korish remembered the words of Kaal: "Who has more power… a king with a knife at his throat or the slave who holds it?" It had been the god's response when a man went to him to complain about his lowly position in life. Korish had always taken it as a warning… that the danger of revolt was always present. Now he saw it differently … for now he knew that the blade had always been against his throat. Kaal was trying to get the lowly man to see that true power always rested in the hands of the common people.

More than at any point in his life, Korish felt the weariness from his thirty-eight years of rule. Looking back on the decades of pageantry, religious ceremony, and grand tours of the empire, Korish could not remember a time when he had made truly important decisions. Yes, as soon as he had assumed the throne, he had ordered the deaths of his brothers, uncles, and cousins. That was a common practice, as it was wise to remove them before the clerics thought of using them to replace him.

Every five years or so he would gain permission from the clerics to order a few hundred raiders across the desert. That was only to remove any tribal leader who was becoming a threat to Korish's rule, however. In truth, the only decisions Korish could remember making were limited to those that had helped keep him on the throne, including the death of Rojan. Now, Korish had only one choice left… how he was going to face his end.

With a sudden jerk forward, Korish impaled his neck on the red-stained knife. The blind cleric, having not expected this action, let go of the blade, taking a step back.

As he began to drown in his own blood, the emperor could not help but let a blood-dripping smile grow on his face. The cause of that grin was seeing the blind cleric of Kaal lose his stoic face, an expression of shock in its place.

With nothing to lose, his fate now sealed, Korish pulled the knife out of his throat just as the darkness of death began to creep in. Throwing the knife it hit the stunned old cleric full in the chest. The momentum of the throw caused Korish to fall forward, his head bouncing hard on the granite floor.

That was the last thing Korish remembered before he lost consciousness. That turned out to be a blessing; he did not feel the two remaining clerics take their revenge upon him, for he was soon dead.

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Armageddon watched as his men swarmed around the Tor, the pillar of flame which Centurions' souls called home. The walls, moats, and ditches built to keep enemies from invading the valleys of Domus did not serve well in keeping Armageddon's legions from attacking on the other side. Attacked by the superior numbers and the anima fed strength of the Blue Devil legions, Grecoron's men were quickly pushed back until only in the caves in the Pillar of Flames did resistance remain.

The Field Marshal of Demons, leading his men, went from cavern to cavern wielding his double-bladed sword, leaving only death behind him. By his own hand, he killed over a hundred Centurions, stopping only to heal his wounds by consuming his victims' anima.

Soon, he reached the top of the pillar, where Grecoron waited with three of his lieutenants. In the Lord Captain's hands were two short blades, while two of his officers had bows and the third wielded a spear.

"Let's end this," Grecoron said.

"If that is what you wish," Armageddon replied, wiping the blood from one of his blades.

"I have been Lord Captain of the Gate for over five years. Tomorrow I would have reached my fortieth year… the end of my life. At least now I will not die in bed. You have my thanks for that.

Before Armageddon took two steps forward two arrows hit him, one to his right thigh, and the other to his left arm. The incredible rate at which Armageddon healed however soon had the arrows popping out of his wounds as he moved forward to face the last of his opponents.

Two more arrows flew, hitting both legs this time. Armageddon, feigning weakness, went down to his knees. This was only to retrieve the two daggers he had in his belt, which he threw at both archers at the fatal point at their abdomens, the anima of both men pouring out of their bodies.

Still, Armageddon's opponents did not stop. The Lord Captain of the Gate jumped forward, both swords swinging while his spearman aimed to make his throw.

Armageddon, picking up his double-bladed sword, rolled to dodge Grecoron's attacks. At the same time, the remaining lieutenant launched his spear, for it to only graze against Armageddon's left shoulder. The Demon pole vaulted off his sword, closing the distance between him and the spear thrower. Lifting his sword over his head, Armageddon split the body of the spearman in half.

During that short moment, Armageddon was distracted long enough for Grecoron to thrust one of his short blades into Armageddon's back. Ignoring the blade, Armageddon spun around with his sword and lopped off Grecoron's head in a single motion.

As the Lord Commander fell to his death, his right hand pulled the sword out of Armageddon's body, coming out bloody but free of anima. If he had just aimed a few inches lower he would have broken Armageddon's core.

Still, Armageddon was deeply wounded, quickly falling on top of the now dead commander. He let his double-bladed sword fall to the ground with a clatter.

As blood began to fill his lungs, weakening him, Armageddon took hold of one of Grecoron's short swords and proceeded to dig out the man's anima core from his abdomen. Feeding off it, he let the elixir of Centurion life fill him, healing the wound that went from his back to his sternum.

"Field Marshal, do you need assistance?" one of Armageddon's Blue Devil's asked.

"Yes… yes, I do," Armageddon replied weakly as he got up onto his knees.

"I will call for a healer then," the man offered as another of the men arrived at the top of the Pillar of Flames.

"No need… You have exactly what I need right with you."

"What sir?" The man asked, confused, just before he felt a blade pierce his stomach, shattering his anima core.

As the man died, the rest of Armageddon's followers watched in horror as the Field Marshal fed off one of his own men even before the man's last breath had passed.


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