The Fall of the Citadel (Part 1)

Her head was pounding. Her stomach was already empty, but it churned anyway. The floor rattled. The intruder alarm was ringing out. She stood up, legs shaking, vision spinning like an out-of-control amusement park ride, and put her hand against the wall.

The building groaned. There was an explosion far away, and another, closer. The Citadel was compromised.

There was the sound of a sword being drawn. Charlotte turned around; she recognised the blue-clad soldier – she’d been introduced only a few days before.

‘Jack,’ she said. ‘Jack Westharbour.’

‘It’s Jake, in fact,’ he said, and lunged at Charlotte; but he cut only fabric and had a knife slammed into his windpipe in return. He opened his mouth, as if to speak, but all that came out was blood. Charlotte took his sword and stumbled out of the room.

The floor shook, the ceiling creaked, and cement-dust fell onto Charlotte’s head. She didn’t have any energy to spare brushing it out of her hair, so she ignored it.

The Citadel had stood for five hundred years, and now these barbarians – these vandals – were tearing it down. No time to be angry about that now, Charlotte told herself. A chunk of ceiling fell down and missed her by six inches.

Charlotte found the young queen in the lesser dancehall. The girl was holding a spear as best she could, backed into a corner by four soldiers. The men were laughing – the only reason the queen was still alive was that they needed her to submit to their lord before she died. Charlotte got one of them in the left kidney before they noticed her, and sliced open the jugular of another as they turned to face her.

It was as if she was watching herself from above; the fight was eerily easy. Charlotte noted that she was cut along her shoulder, filed the pain and blood away to deal with later.

She left her sword buried in the chest of the fourth soldier and clasped the wound, to slow the flow of blood.

‘We have to go.’

‘You’re hurt,’ said the queen, all wide-eyes and trembling-lips.

‘That doesn’t matter.’

‘Why are they doing this?’ whimpered the child. ‘I thought we were friends, why—’

Charlotte growled; with her blood-covered hand she grabbed the girl’s hair and pulled it tight.

‘That doesn’t matter. You have to be strong. We have to go.’

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