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Chapter 41: Refuge

February 25 at 6:00 PM

Refuge - Photo courtesy of Monte Pisanino

Photo courtesy of Monte Pisanino

Seeking to make himself impervious, the black pope of Xennex drew his army close, carving his likeness into the mountainside. Charged with clearing the tunnels, slaves of the White Basin were freed in exchange, residence afforded to those who filled its ranks. Construction proceeded over many decades, while the pontiff repelled challenge after challenge to his throne. Once boasting the largest vampire army in the midlands, his eminence saw his numbers halved while forging the lair, and dwindle again by that number as it neared completion.

The impending conquest of Massadin shattered his depleted core, forcing the Holy Crescent over River Kranth, and into the highlands. With an expanse before him, and a madman at his back, the pontiff could not mend the wounded, conceding their ashes to the sun. Shadow to shadow they marched until reaching the jagged cliffs of Sierra Kortikus, promptly lighting the pyre atop the highest perch.

Desperate to revitalize his army, and nip back at the haughty sadist, Pope Ruminus II discovered the barracks largely vacant, the bones of its laborers cast into the fortifications. But the castle itself was a testament of The Word; hundreds of interconnected structures snaked along the mountainside, protruding like a spine.

Though unfinished, Abber Sur delighted in the forthcoming fracas.

"Common sense evades you, as do the tools of war." The pontiff leaned over the inner curtain, his black veil fluttering in the wind. He opened his robe, exposing the crescent brand on his pale chest. "Strike, if you dare."

"Wayward you have steered us, and now you cower in your grave." Massadin the Saint galloped up the slope, admiring the statues of dragons mounted atop the walls. "While you whittle away at your sacred refuge, the surplus has been squandered. Tonight a new pontiff will be crowned, realigning the Holy Crescent; God willing."

The old man cackled through the mesh in his robe, fully aware of Massadin's true intent. Crown in hand, he would rewrite The Word as he saw fit, crafting a new doctrine, and executing all who disagreed, as Ruminus had done so many years ago.

The Saint raised his sword, and slashed down as archers unleashed their volley. Perplexed by the angle and swirling winds, arrows veered aimlessly, crumbling against the crimson walls, if reaching them at all.

Dismayed that they could not reach the target, Massadin ordered his men forward, and launched a second barrage. When that failed, he demanded his own bow, and fired into the sky. Though his shot high and true, a silver gauntlet reached out and plucked it from the air.

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