Rooa the War Sontor is getting angry. The weight of the enormous plates of war armour which cover his flanks and head and backside is relatively normal for him, although the heavy leather straps chafe and irritate his thick red hide. (Sontors have red hides, not grey.) Even the enormous club attached to the end of his elongated prehensile trunk to let him smash the enemy in the face has been providing a huge amount of amusement both for him and for the people he is allowing to ride on his back for the moment (they aren't really in control of what he does, and haven't been since the battle began and the fire of adrenaline began coursing through his enormous sontor brain).
But people keep sticking him with things and it is making him angry. And there are enormous flaming stones flying through the air and throwing up hot mud in his face. And there is a floppy dead man impaled all the way down one of his four great tusks where he can't get it off. All of this is irritating and people are shouting frightening things at him.
"Screw this," he thinks, in as much as a sontor -- oh, forget it, it's an elephant. A fantasy elephant. Just go with it -- can think, and he decides, in as much as a fantasy elephant can decide, to get out of there, and he turns and runs, trampling friend and foe alike, away across the battlefield.
This is a pretty bad turning point in the battle because the other eleven war fantasy elephants take Rooa's decision as gospel and do pretty much the exact same thing. Carnage ensues, in as much as it hadn't already ensued. It is smoky and filthy and chaotic and there are parts of humans and siege weaponry everywhere.
The knight Lio of Persual hurries down the stone spiral staircase in full and as-yet unstained battle armour. He is tall, gingery-grey, and on the cusp between the age of a highly experienced knight and the age of an unfit knight in retirement. "My lord! Farseers and Binocular Farseers on the parapets report that the Third Army of Kraadnarl is close to obtaining control of our Western Approach."
"Then concentrate our ranged weapons on that Approach!" snaps the King in return.
"My lord! We would strike friendly and opposing forces alike with such a defence! I have a hundred and ten men ready to take back the Approach on your slightest word."
"You will remain here," repeats the King. "You will remain here! The great Fissure beneath this castle must, at all costs, be safeguarded."
"But at close range, or from afar? Once inside the castle the war is all but over," protests Oliathyl, one of the King's advisors. "Yet your word is law."
"I am the castle. I am the Fissure. I will be defended. We'll not lose this day."
"My lord, your word is law," admits Lio, as do the four other knights in attendance.
"Not my word, of course. Not my word," says the King. "It's written! Kraadnarl will assault us on all sides but, at the darkest of hours, salvation will arise, salvation in the form of he who wields the Sword of my ancestor, Eudum, the first of that name as I am the ninth. The Sword which vanquished Kra'na twice before, as held in the hand of my son, Eudum! Oh, if your faith arose from the same spring as mine. We work hard, to fulfill prophecy! We will be victorious in this day, and our victory shall be seen by the Impossible Farseer and thus carried into the past so that we may read the Writings and learn of it today.
"See me now, do you, Daughter of the Impossible?" cries King Eudum at the ceiling of his castle. He casts around for specks of brilliant dust, the telltale sign of watching seers and other magics. "See my victory, now? Ranged weapons, alchemical and magical and in combination as well! Target the Western Approach!"
A ball of sulphur weighing about two-fifths of a tonne lands on the Hall's roof. The roof holds the immediate impact, but then bows and buckles and as the occupants of the Hall dive for cover -- some of them for the King, to protect him -- the sulphur ball crashes into the floor and explodes. The sulphur, as quickly becomes apparent, is magically charged. Flaming and moving as if guided by remote control, embers fly out of the crater and seek out nearby hostiles, latching onto their faces and throats. In a flash the majority of the King's Court is dead or fighting imminent death. The King, flung backwards into an altar and then the solid wall behind, dies instantly. Only the cowardly Lio and a few others have the sense to escape behind closed doors quickly enough to survive.
"You okay?!" he squeaks at the two attendants joining him in the corridor.
"Gods in heavens! Gods in heavens, I saw the King die. Eudum is dead. Am I right?"
"Yes, sir," says the shorter, older attendant, whom Lio recognises as the man who usually selects and pours the wine at dinner. There's a name for the role, which Lio can't remember. After a nudge, the taller, younger, female attendant also pipes up, "Yes, sir!"
"Eudum the Ninth is dead. Long live Eudum the Tenth." Another explosion wracks the castle. "We must find the new King. Quickly."
"HUUUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHHHHH-AAGH-GAAAGH-oh gods. Euuuuughhhhhhhh. HUAAAAAAAGH."
Eudum the Tenth vomits noisily into his lavatory for as long as he can find the strength to raise himself up to its level. Then he lets go and rolls over on the flagstones and shivers.
"My lord!" cries Lio, rapping loudly on the door to Eudum's rooms. "My lord! The hour is upon you!"
"I'm properly ill, croaks Eudum. "I can barely see, man. Ohhhhhhhh gods. Ohhhhhh gods this is bad."
Lio can't hear this, Eudum speaks too faintly. After a word of warning, he bursts into the rooms and quickly locates his King, the two attendants (one far too old to bear arms, the other far too female) not knowing what else to do but to trail after him.
"Your father is dead, my Lord. The throne, the Kingdom and the castle all pass to you, for as long as they remain intact, which--" BOOM "--I fear may not be long. But you wield the Aged Sword! The long-spoken-of Edge of Destruction! Kra'na himself will stalk among us within the hour."
Eudum throws up on Lio. "I think I've got food poisoning."
"You're drunk. You're hung over."
"I had at the absolute maximum one and a half bottles last night. At most. I was pacing myself, Lio."
"Gods, man. Did not the Impossible Woman foresee this? Get up. We must get you to the--"
"Find my apothecary and have him put me to dreamless sleep for two days. It was the damned lamb, undercooked damnéd lamb."
Lio recalls the banquet last night, on the eve of the final battle of the Endwar. There had been a roast pig, but Eudum (the younger at the time) had sent it away and requested something else from the pantry, warmed over. Eudum looks a wreck. He's still in his night clothes, and unshaven, and unwashed. He stinks and repulses to look at. The castle rocks under yet another impact.
"Oh, gods," says Lio. "Right. You, find the Sword and bring it. It's in the next room but one, hanging in the special jewelled and gilded rack. You can't miss it. Wine man, oenophile, help me carry my lord to the Fissure."
"My name's Cratch, sir."
"I don't care what your damned name is!"
Kra'na arrives at the iron- and septiron-bound portal to the deep Fissure beneath the castle just an hour later. The battle outside is continuing to rage but he is unable to contain himself, and, clothing himself in a minor spell of misdirection which could only ever work when his enemy's forces were distracted by such an intense onslaught, sneaks into the castle by grapple. He is an incredibly tall, with limbs as spindly as a spider's and a bald skull and enormous eyes which are almost insectoid in their relative size.
With the sheer quantity of magicks at his disposal, crawling over his skin like worms, he makes light work of the portal, blasting it out into the cavern beyond just for the dramatic effect. There's a crunch as the doors ricochet off the far fall, and then a distant noisy squelch and a woman's cry of "Oh no! Oh dear!"
"Can we get a rain check, please? Can you come back another time?" says someone else.
"EUDUM! FACE ME!" cries Kra'na into the darkness, illuminated from below by lava whose inexplicable thaumic properties make it glow blue and green instead of red. "I WILL CONTROL THE FISSURE. ITS ETERNAL POWER WILL BE MINE ALONE. I WILL SUCK THIS LAND DRY OF EVERYTHING GOOD. Say again?"
"Eudum's not here," says Lio, keeping to the other side of the lava pool from Kra'na. "Can you come back? In fact, he's dead. He had food poisoning, and he was lying down for a bit of a rest, and then you hit him with the door. I mean, you don't want to come in here and see, there's just a bloody smudge left. It wasn't foretold. It was foretold that you'd be defeated by Eudum wielding this Sword-- I mean, that Sword, which Elasa is carrying over there like she doesn't know which end to hold it-- but the Sword on its own isn't much cop. So you're going to have to wait for another Eudum to turn up, and I don't know how long that's going to be, he's only got one younger brother and he lives on the other side of the continent from here. And he's six. And his name's not Eudum, so you're looking at at least twenty to thirty years' waiting."
"AND YOU ARE?" cries Kra'na. "Wait, you're Lio. Okay, we've met. Seriously, this is it. Prophecy and all. I win this time."
"Are we reading the same prophecy? This is the third and final confrontation. Eudum destroys you forever this time. I mean, next time."
"No, this is four."
"Pretty sure it's three."
"We've had three confrontations. We already met once before the Unlight War. This is four."
"I, uh. One second." Lio flips through the Prophecy looking for chapters and verses. "I can't really see. There's not a lot of light."
Kra'na rolls his eyes and strides around the lava pool, lighting up one hand with pure white just for illumination. "Okay, show me the eighth chapter. That's the Battle of The Yurrilis Gases. That was about eighteen years ago."
"He would have been thirteen years old back then."
"Well. So? Yeah, he was. I was about the same. It was more of a scuffle. A girl was involved, you know how it is. The Unlight War was the second time. The third was the last time the forces of Kraadnarl assaulted this castle, this time last year, and got within a hair's breadth of taking the Fissure, but then I got trounced and lost an arm. Gods, this is all so ambiguously-phrased, you can see where the confusion comes in."
"But this is your final defeat! I mean, that was your final defeat. This battle is--"
"No," explains Kra'na, patiently. "That's just where the prophecy ends. The day after that, I found Tragoboor's Lamp in the Forest of Ulshuum and learned how to kill an observing Impossible Seer remotely by spiking her in the eye backwards in time through her Lensed-Future aperture. That's why the prophecy dries up at that point. What the hells did you think happened next? Eternal wonderfulness? One moment."
Kra'na turns just as Elasa is swinging the sword at his neck. As luck would have it, it's an inexpert attack and the Sword is coming in flat-first. Kra'na blocks the Aged Sword with a hand, knocks it out of Elasa's hands, decapitates her with a needle-fine fireball fired from one finger, and kicks her body back into the lava where it catches fire, explodes and evaporates almost simultaneously. In a moment he has picked the Sword back up and impaled Cratch too, who had been hiding in the shadows waiting for a suitable moment to leap out and push him into the lava himself.
The Kraadnarl forces begin to file into cavern and surround the lava pit and Lio himself. Overhead is a faint twinkling: a Farseer somewhere in the past is watching. "I thought you killed her," muses Lio, who is shaken and frightened, but becoming eerily relaxed as his options going forward become increasingly easy to choose from.
"Your Seer," says Kra'na. "You should read what mine foresaw today. So, join me or die?"
The knight Lio inhales deeply. "Phpppppppp. Okay, whatever."