Marching doesn’t really convey the emotion of the moment, it says monotonous, repetitive. It doesn’t cover the frantic scurry as we stepped into the street.
The new headquarters had a nice arch framing the door, I’d not really noticed it before, but I noticed it now.
It was the only thing that kept us sheltered from the swarms of monsters roaming the streets. I guess a group of mages cutting their way into the horde generates a lot of interest. They couldn’t attack on all sides. Their numbers were too great. Who knew being out numbered could be a good thing?
All this ran through my mind in the instant before the mage next to me pulled on his link. He raised his wand and pointed into the void hanging above us and then…
I have no idea what he did, but it distracted the beasts. Night wings and harpies fell still living from the sky as if the air couldn’t bear them to touch it anymore.
“Light, we need light, we’re blind out here,” I shouted. Someone heard me.
The sky lit up for miles in every direction. Fire poured into the clouds from directly above us.
We could see. I wished we couldn’t.
Trolls strolled down the streets, their clubs dragging behind them, the cobbles torn from the path.
Goblins, the lesser cousin of the trolls, smaller but quicker, followed along, their high-pitched laughs as they broke into the buildings and pulled people out filled the air.
Night wings twitched with the harpies on the ground, their fall hard but not fatal. Their bat like wings and strange tentacles were on display for all to see.
Small earth elementals completed the forces.
Something wasn’t right.
Telsan and the others at the front of the formation were locked in close combat. I’d been kept at the back, the press of bodies too much to force the issue right now.
I could now see but something was missing, what was it?
A legion of goblins, grey skinned and short but gangly, their oddly jointed hands holding makeshift weapons, sharpened sticks and shards of stone rushed forwards.
A seven-man army is too small to resist that sort of pressure. Heavy magic isn’t without its costs and one of them is time. Another is attention.
“Tristan, you have earth, don’t you?” Lysar asked as he pushed away a probing goblin. It snarled and clawed but its limbs were too short to gain purchase.
“Raise a platform under us all. Slope the sides so they have to fight their way up.”
I looked around, measuring the space: a hundred feet on each side, narrowing to ten at the door.
I opened my senses wide, braced for the rush. It still struck me like a blow to the head: Colours and sounds, the sick signatures of trolls and goblins. Night wings a strange harmony of light and dark. I pulled on my link; the twisted magic flooded my body. I poured it all into the earth under the cobbles, hunting for solid rock, there not too deep. I commanded it to rise up.
The air filled with the low rumbling sound of grinding stone.
“Good, a bit higher Tristan, that should do it. Give the guys a chance to rest and think.”
The front was slowly disengaging. The few fresh men swapped out with the commander and the two others.
If I was to be fighting for my life with these men, it would be great if I knew their names.
I released my magic, letting the excess drain back down my link. Then I stepped forward to take my turn on the front. The growls and whimpers from the edge of the mound caught my eye. I found myself trying to see down into the shadows.
“We have a short respite; we need to use it for the biggest advantage. The trolls will step right onto us. What have we got?”
“Sir, Grell and I can set some wards, but I don’t know how they will do here. Given another day we could turn this place into a fortress, the magic is purifying. New flows are coming. Once that is done we can cleanse this city of the monsters.”
“We have to avoid casualty. We don’t have the manpower to fight a protracted war. Plan it but we need short term gains.”
“We can step back into headquarters sir. Seal it up and wait it out.”
“But what about the civilians?” I asked.
“We will hold here as much as possible. If we give the beasties the juicy target they might leave the civilians alone.”
I missed the rest of the conversation.
A small group of goblins had made it up the mound. My sword swung, taking heads and limbs. The moans of pain and anger sent shivers up my spine but I didn’t stop.
Like cutting down weeks at the farm, my arm moved on its own. Flickers of flame licked the blade. Blood, bone and other less pleasant things sprayed over me.
I lost track of time.
A hand touched my shoulder, I spun, my arm pulled back to strike.
Telsan stood there, his face shocked at something.
“They have stopped for a few moments. We have something planned. Get a drink and take a rest.”
Numbly I nodded before pulling away from the edge; I didn’t look at what I had done.
Lysar brought a cup of water over to me as I leant against the arch.
“You did well up there. Not many freshly raised have a taste for battle. Not that this counts as one yet.”
I held out my left hand for the cup, my mouth suddenly felt dry.
“Here you go. Rinse first off.”
I did and spat bloody water on the earth, which hungrily sucked it up. “What’s being planned? I was distracted.”
“I’ll bet you were. That sword is something special. Where did you learn to use it? We don’t teach swordplay at the academy much anymore, much easier to give the babies wands and staffs.”
“Vesic taught me.”
“Lessons from a god? Ha, you are touched by something different Tristan. Anyways, the plan is a surprise.”
“You don’t know it do you?”
“Nope, I had my own things to worry about, missed the planning session. Your boy, Brendon is fine, keeping the lights on. He didn’t even look tired or anything.”
“Good. Anything we can do to take the pressure off him?”
“I’ve got some globes, not many. It’s hard to enchant stuff out here. Everything resists.”
“Don’t I know it? How are we supposed to know what to do if we don’t know the plan? Aren’t I commander or something?”
“Yep, ask one of the boys. I’m not one of them really. I’m kept out of their little club.”
“Seems close knit.”
Lysar pointed back towards the front. Telsan and one of his men were heading our way. They were blood splattered and worn looking.
“Lysar, water please, while I talk to our commander.”
Lysar walked back inside.
“Tristan, you did well.” Telsan raised his hand to his hair, but upon seeing the blood on it, he lowered it before making contact. “The platform is letting us hold them off. We need to work out what to do in the long term, but I think we will make it through the night.”
“Good to know.”
Telsan cracked a small smile at that. “The boys have got some tricks coming up, nothing spectacular. Don’t be surprised.”
“If you tell me what to expect I won’t be surprised.”
“I don’t know. Grell and Densk are unpredictable. They say they have something, that’s good enough for me. It could be almost anything. But I doubt it will be big, the magic is wrong, they won’t risk drawing much.”
“Something has been bothering me about all this. Now that I’ve had a few moments to think a question occurred, where is the leader?”
“Leader? These are monsters Tristan, they don’t need a leader.”
“It’s too organised. Look. Waves of goblins, shock troops of trolls, air support and sappers. Where have the elementals gotten to?”
“I’ve got Jedas scrying the field. Now we know what’s out there he can focus in. the elementals are on his list.”
“He won’t find them. They are all beneath us. Something has caused this.”
“For the sake of argument say I agree with you. What could have caused this?”
“I don’t know but we won’t win unless we find out.”
“No one could command an army like this except maybe a wizard.”
“That’s it, a wizard.”
“A wizard wouldn’t do this.”
“Do you know a wizard named Brak?”
“The arch wizard’s best friend, co-founder of the wizard’s council, that Brak?”
“Yes. Did you know he has gone rogue?”
“What? Why would a wizard go rogue? That makes no sense.”
“I don’t know, but what I do know is the council are looking for him. He was behind the foundry explosion in Westhaven.”
“Tristan, a wizard wouldn’t be here. The magic is too damaged for them.”
“Some of them could manage it; I’ll bet Brak is one of them.”
“You are betting, heavily. I don’t see a reason for a wizard to set all this in motion. I can’t let you go.”
“But I know where he is.”
“You don’t know anything Tristan, you are guessing. This is all just guesswork. There is no leader, no wizard here.”
“I’m sorry Telsan but this won’t end here. I have to go.” I pushed off from the wall I was leaning against and ran to the edge of the platform, the drop was only a few feet, but every little helps in a fight.
The goblins had pulled back, they weren’t assaulting the line anymore, they crouched at the base, growling and fighting among themselves.
I couldn’t slip through. Not unnoticed, their senses were too sharp.
I racked my brains for an answer. Nothing came to mind.
My sword flared with flame, casting deep shadows. The bright light made the goblins flinch.
Nothing for it but, to fight my way through. Hopefully Vesic’s gift wouldn’t vanish on me.
My shoulder ached from earlier but it was loose, that would have to be enough.
I raised my blade and ran into the swarm.
Arms and makeshift weapons reached out for me.
“Cover him,” came a shouted command before bolts of fire and light flew into the mass from behind me.
A hole opened in the clump of goblins. I ran for it. My legs pumping, arm lashing out to take out the goblins that tried to close it.
Where were gnomes when you wanted them? The thought crossed my mind as I slashed and cut for my life. The absurdity of it all set off something inside me. A bubbling of emotions, my heart raced.
Blood flew through the air and still I made my way forwards, laughing all the way.
The goblins were taking a beating; the cover was clearing swaths of them. The stench of burning goblin is hard to describe, sweet and sickly with a hint of rot. Like burning wet leaves filled with honey. Disgusting but you can’t help taking a sniff trying to work out what it smelt like.
I angled my path to the king’s tower.
That was when the earth elementals pulled their trick.
The street rippled, cobbles rising in the air and striking indiscriminately.
I pulled as much power as I dared, the sigil flared in my mind again. Its shape faint behind my eyes for a moment. Just like at the tribunal. This time though I knew what to do with it. I forced as much magic as I could into the flowing runic shape. It grew more defined and filled with colour. A shield formed around me, deflecting cobbles away.
The feeling of power running through me that strongly made me feel invincible. I quickened my pace, my sword cutting all the while, blood sizzling down the burning blade. The runic shapes rising from the surface of the blade glowed darkly in all the colours of the rainbow, blues bleeding into reds and yellows, oranges and greens mixing with the near black blood of the goblins.
A tingling in my head slowed me: A sense of something strange not far from me. The king’s tower as I had guessed. Subtle pulses of magic.
The forces thinned as I turned the corner. I could see the entry of the tower. The doors were still missing but the planks blocking the way had been removed. A pair of massive trolls guarded the door.
The trolls looked out over the street, clubs in hands. They could have been ugly statues for they moved.
Blasts weren’t really my thing but with this amount of power running through my channels, I could do something.
The wizard might feel it if it was too strong so I would have to be subtle. Subtle wasn’t really my thing.
I opened my senses as wide as I could.
The world exploded into light.
The damaged dark flows flashed into view, each one starkly contrasted against the shadowed material world. They actually flowed now, power rushing through them in torrents all directed into and up the tower. A shape was forming at the top of the tower: a sphere of sigils, thousands of them in swirling patterns. A large chunk was missing but as I watched a few more floated out to join them. A huge spell that I couldn’t even begin to work out what it did. But whatever it was, was building.
The trolls glimmered with twisted light; strands filled every part of their bodies, holding them together.
A small idea took root in my mind.
I let my shield fall; I wouldn’t need it for this. The spare power instantly tried to overtake my mind, whispers and visions swam across my senses, promises of everything I could want, peace, safety, comfort. I did my best to ignore them and put the power to good use.
The earth elementals trick of throwing cobbles wouldn’t work with trolls they recover too quickly, but maybe something slower mould work.
I sent my power into the earth, softening the ground beneath their feet.
Slowly they started to sink; they looked at each other but made no move to save themselves. Maybe they had been ordered to stand and watch for someone or something. This apparently wasn’t it.
It wasn’t long before they were buried up to their shoulders. I hardened it quickly, it wouldn’t hold for long but they were too big to get through the doors.
I shut down my other senses and pushed the almost overwhelming power away. I couldn’t run the risk of over using it now. I wavered as it left me then took a deep breath and ran for the door.
The trolls saw me or heard something, their heads turned to me. Then as if they realised something at the same time they let out identical roars. The air shook with the force of it. I froze, my heart racing, fear flooded me.
I swallowed it down.
Only thirty feet or so to go, I forced myself to go on.
The trolls struggled, the hardened earth cracking around their shoulders.
I quickened my pace.
I only had ten feet to go; I was almost between them when the earth lost its battle with them. The one of the left raised its club as it climbed from the hole.
I ran even faster my sword out to defend.
The one on the right put out a hand to grab me as I passed.
I felt it latch onto my ankle. I fell as my momentum forced me over
I lashed out blindly at what was holding me. My sword met flesh.
The troll screamed. Its friend swung its club down to defend it.
I rolled out of the way.
It missed by inches.
I scurried forwards on hands and knees, putting as much speed as I could to get me through the doorway before the trolls ganged up.
I made it.
The trolls roared in fury. A club was poked through the entryway.
I managed to get myself to the side of the door, out of their reach unless they knelt down. I stood, doing my best to slow my breathing and kicked off the weight on my leg. It was the severed hand of the troll that grabbed me.
Looking around, I couldn’t see anything more than last time I was here; if anything, I could see less. It had been day then. Now Brendon’s fire could barely be seen through the empty windows. The light was dim and uneven.
The troll’s efforts to get me quickly ended once they realised that they couldn’t reach.
I waited a moment more, just to be sure, and then moved to the stairs. Whatever was going on would be at the top near the massive spell growing up there.
As I climbed, I thought about what I would do to stop it. Nothing came to mind. I didn’t know enough, of magic, spells in particular to do anything. I didn’t know why Brak was here or if he was alone.
On the second landing, the king’s hall stood empty, no sign of a struggle or anything out of place as far as I could see. I moved on to the next flight of stairs. My sword’s light had dimmed once my power stopped flowing, but it gave off enough to see, just.
Vibrations pulsed through my feet from the stairs as I got close, dust trickled down from the ceiling, as I got closer to the landing. Just off of the landing, an open door way to the peak of the tower beckoned.
“Good of you to make it Tristan, it’s always nice to have an appreciative audience for something like this,” the old brittle voice of Brak said from through the doorway.