Chapter Fifteen.

This chapter is dedicated to all those people who like to read the end of a book before the beginning, particulary to Mrs. H.

The city ruins seemed to shine in the shimmering light of the full moon. Everything was silent and so very still. Even the wind did not dare flow through the ghostly streets, or brush against the cold stony walls of lonely buildings long ago deserted. Growling unsheathed Orbit, its sharp gleaming blade and jewelled handle glittering like the city. He felt uneasy and once again took comfort from the swords weight in his hands. This dead city held such a strange, sad beauty.

"There are no plants." Growling turned around to look at Yasmin in confusion, but it was Dam who spoke first. "So what if there's no plants? Not getting homesick on us are ya, elf?"

Yasmin glared at Dam then turned to Growling. "No one has lived here for hundreds of years," she began warily. "This place is nothing more than ruins, and yet there are no plants, no flowers or trees. There are not even weeds crawling through the broken slabs in the road. Nature should have…"

"The place where nothing but he can survive," growled Lightfoot, his deep voice loud in the silent night. "This city that he cursed, this whole city is his tomb."

Growling frowned, a whole city. How was he to search a whole city before sunrise? Then he saw it out of the corner of his eye and he knew where his quest was to end. The tower he had seen so many times before. The tower with his emblem high on the walls, with the broken roof and gargoyle guardian lifelessly watching over all. Growling began to walk brusquely down the broken street, heading towards the centre of the city. The others looked at each other before hastily following their leader, all except Dam. "And where are you off to?"

Growling stopped in his tracks but did not turn around. "There is no time for this Dam, I know he is in the tower and we need to hurry."

"And how do you know?" spat Dam.

"You know how I know!" Growling tried to stay calm, it was difficult, he knew there wasn't much time to once again reassure his fearful friend. Why couldn't Dam understand how important this quest was. It was above Dam, it was above them all. Growling knew now what it was he had been searching for. All his life he had been waiting for this moment and it did not matter if they did not survive, so long as the task was completed.

"Yes, I know." Dam glared at Growling but he could not hold it and looked away. "I am so fed up of you walking away, expecting us to just follow you blindly without a word of explanation. We all lost Annie to this quest of yours. We all sacrificed, but I'm not going to sacrifice my life. Look at where we have ended up. This land is cursed. If we don't leave now, then I fear that we shall never make it out alive."

"But we are so close!" cried out Yasmin. "You can't give up now. We need you."

"No!" snorted Lightfoot, withdrawing his broadsword. "The little coward has complained since the beginning. If he wants to run, then let him. We don't need his pathetic magic!"

"Oh yeah, because your strength is so wonderful, barbarian," replied Dam sarcastically, "and her so-called forest magic will be so useful here. Well don't worry, I will be sure to tell the story of you brave warriors because when the sun rises that is all you shall be, a fairytale. The Adventures of…"

"Enough!" Growling had not spoken loudly but the sharpness of his voice struck Dam silent. "There is little time. Now we need you Dam and yeah, I'm leading us all into a danger we needn't be in, but each of us has a reason for being here. I didn't force you to come here with me. So if you feel your path lies elsewhere, then go. My destiny lies at the top of that tower… Farewell Dam." Growling turned his back on Dam. Suddenly the street around him no longer looked serenely beautiful. It was dull and grey and lifeless. It was a dead city.

As he walked he could see Lightfoot's broad shoulders to his left and Yasmin's brown hair to his right. He wished for Dam's curly hair to be following behind, but when he glanced over his shoulder Dam was nowhere to be seen.

Navigating the city took longer than Growling would have guessed. Time was running fearfully short. The sky was already beginning to lighten from the oncoming dawn, so he gave the towers faded stone walls no consideration as he ran through the broken doorway. Up the crumbling circular staircase he had climbed so many times before in his mind. There was no hesitation, no fear, only one thought went through his mind, one name; Lord Lucas. He moved upwards. Past the headless statue of the goddess, past the room half sunken in rubble, up to the very top of the tower where two once grand suits of armour littered the floor and stairs, their corroded metal failing to guard the room where the final battle was to begin.

It was only when moonlight, seeping through the broken roof, fell upon his face that he stopped. The room was all wrong. The grand circular table filled with plates of food and glittering goblets of wine were nowhere to be seen. The purple drapes, the tapestry revealing his pureblood connection to the gods, all gone as though they had never existed. The room was as cold and lifeless as the rest of the city, except for the portrait of Lady Alison which rested above the stone throne, it's colour as vivid and beautiful as in his dream. In his mind it was beneath the portrait that Lord Lucas had always been waiting for him and it was the sight of his mirthless silver eyes that Growling had prepared for, except the eyes of the figure before him were closed. Growling almost dropped Orbit in surprise. In front of him, sitting like a statue on the stone throne was an old man with long, matted grey hair that matched the throne on which he slept. He looked small and so weak, his arms so thin that they might snap with the smallest effort. He barely seemed to be breathing and with the paleness of his face, Growling had doubts as to whether he was alive at all.

"Is it, him?" It was Yasmin that broke the silence. He had not noticed them catch up with him, but hearing her faltering voice brought him out of his confused stupor.

"I don't know," he replied warily. "Everything is so different, it's-" Suddenly the sleeping form moved, as though waking slowly from a deep sleep. Growling wanted to charge up to him and slice Orbit through his ancient bones before he awoke but instead found that he could not bring himself to attack a defenceless soul, especially as now he was unsure as to whether he was Lucas. It was not the heroes way. It was his destiny to rid the world of an evil wizard, not to be a cold blooded killer of a weak and feeble old man in his sleep.

"Who are thou, brave warriors?" Not lifting his head to look at the intruders, the figure on the throne spoke slowly as though out of practice. Growling hesitated, something felt so wrong and he suddenly wanted to be away, back home in the Shadylands with Dam. " I am Gareth Cai Growling, son of Sheriden the Great and Kate of Rivydell."

"Come'est thou here to harm me?" Growling didn't reply, merely clutched tighter to Orbit. "Three of thee..? Against me?" He began to laugh, the manic sound echoing around the empty room. They all stepped back in revulsion. Suddenly the old man lifted his head and there were the silver eyes that Growling knew so well, the eyes of Lord Lucas. "Fools!" Lucas' voice had changed. It was strong and cold, filled with an evil that rid Growling of any doubt and returned him to his quest. "You should have slain me while I slept, only then would you have had a chance." For a moment Lucas paused as he looked into Growling's eyes. "Your honour hinders your better judgment." A smirk curved malevolently to his lips. "Pitiful mortals!"

Growling charged. No thought, no plan, only destiny driving him onwards. Lightfoot was at his side whilst Yasmin had dived to the left and launched two ersatz orbs. Growling saw them shoot past his head as he ran, only for each orb to be caught by Lucas and be thrown back at the running men. Without hesitation Growling twisted out of the way of the shining magic but Lightfoot wasn't fast enough and the clang of a sword against the floor mixed with Yasmin's despairing cry told him that Lightfoot had fallen. Filled with anger he struck the sword down on the Lucas with all his wrath, but it was as if his sword collided with an invisible barrier protecting Lucas. Orbit vibrated soundlessly in his hands, repelled by this unseen force, and his next attack was clumsy, though it made no difference, he still was unable to hit anything more than air.

All this time Lucas remained on his stone thrown, but now as Growling stumbled back in panic, he rose steadily to his feet and with a gentle wave of his hand Growling fell weakly to his knees. He was exhausted, no longer capable of even withstanding the weight of Orbit and it slipped from his clutches, falling to the floor with clang, though Growling did not hear this sound. It seemed to him that there was nothing more in the world than those terrifying eyes looming high in a monstrous shadow. Eyes that were filled with more malice and sin than he had ever imagined and it instilled so much horror in Growling that he felt like he was drowning.

A golden light suddenly appeared above the phantom and as Growling looked, the beautiful face of a golden haired woman gazed down upon him. He knew her to be nothing more than a painting but her smile seemed so real and comforting, shining through the gloom and returning the whispery figure of an old man.

A scream distracted Growling and the light of the portrait slipped away as he returned to reality. He turned his head just in time to see Yasmin thrown across the room, hitting the rear wall before falling to the floor where she remained silent. Despair escaped from Growling's lips and he made to exact revenge on his dear friends, only his hand would not reach for the sword that lay just beside his feet. In horror he realized that his muscles would not obey his commands. He was under a spell and there was nothing he could do about it, Lucas was too powerful. This was how his mighty quest was too end. Lightfoot dead, Yasmin unconscious and Growling incapable of even defending himself. Nothing could save them now.

Lucas' wrinkled hand effortlessly lifted Orbit from the floor. The sorcerer slowly examined the sword and then sneered. "Are you aware of the origins of this sword?" He had begun to circle Growling and try as Growling might he could not keep his eyes on the old man. "Of course you do." Lucas continued without a pause for Growling's answer. "You knew, and yet you dared to brandish this blade to challenge me!"

"I brought it to kill you!" spat Growling as viciously as he could. Lucas laughed playfully and suddenly Growlings shoulder was filled with a searing pain and as he cried out he saw Orbits tip glistening with his blood as it protruded from his shoulder. Then watched as the tip twisted sharply sideways, the cracking of his shoulder blade brutally joining his screams. Lucas let go of Orbits handle and returned to his thrown, leaving the sword to dangle painfully out of Growling's shoulder, the weight of the hilt dangling it downwards though it did not slide out. "Foolish little man. Just like all those who came before you and all those that shall come after. I, Lord Lucas, sole destroyer of three mighty armies and the curse of this once magnificent city. I, the most powerful being in this world, find myself forced to face pitiful throngs of little warriors who understand nothing of my power. Three! Three of you thought you could conquer me! It's insulting." He leaned forward and smiled. "Well at least you served as a nice distraction but now it is time for you to depart. Dawn has arrived."

To Growling's terror he saw that a golden light was quickly filling the room. A shriek drew his gaze to Yasmin who was looking in horror at her hand. It had turned a light grey in colour and was crumbling away to dust which gently flowed around her. Slowly Yasmin was disappearing, the sunlight turning her limbs to dust just as legend had told and as he watched Growling realized that he had doomed them all. A sudden intense pain in his own hand told him that his time had come. It was as though every cell in his hand was on fire, a fire that spread though his body, hungrily burning till all was silently consumed.

Lucas' hysteric laugh rang loud and clear thorough out the city as he settled once more on his throne, waiting for the next warriors to journey to his kingdom.