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Chapter Two of my book. I seem to have finally hit my stride, this one's better written and so is chapter three. As fantasy readers, you should let me know if my pace of exposition is good, I've re-invented many of the fantasy concepts I'm using.
There had never been an attack on their village before, but they had always known it was a possibility Measures to quickly alert the tree clearing crew were always in place. It didn't take long for everyone (except for Lucan and Cwen) to gather in the center of the village, their eating and gathering house.
Like everything else in their semi-nomadic lives, the center house was made to either be easily replaced or easily moved, or when possible both. Furniture was made in the quickest functional fashion from wood, a material of which they were never short. Over time, Aart had made some improvements, and so there were now benches and chairs with smooth curves and decorations, that also managed to come apart when needed. But tables were functional slabs of wood, solidly propped up by vertical slabs, the floor was dirt and the walls were made just like every other set of walls in the settlement: simple stacked wooden logs, chinked for insulation in winter. But it was cozy in its way, had held many a friendly night of talk and food while the outside world howled, and was always big enough for them all. Now, for the first time, they gathered in it not to eat or play or test each other, but to talk of deadly matters.
Battle had come.
"My friends," Seamere said. He addressed them from in front, as he should. "Our first test in battle is going to be a difficult one. We are probably going to have to depend on reinforcements from Wedmor."
"That means we do without Cwen," Bryon said. He was right: they had all agreed years ago, when they had planned together for eventualities that might never come, that Cwen would be their best hope of getting word out in nearly any situation. But the plans they had made back then had included Baudwyne to be their guard, their sentry, and their bulwark against untimely disaster. Now Cwen leaving meant losing their only remaining pair of Empowered senses. The rest of them were far more limited in how they could perceive their surroundings.
"Yes, it does," Seamere agreed. "I've thought about it, but even Aart can't do it without drawing attention. It has to be her. But we may be better off than you think. Our plans of the time may have depended too much on Baudwyne, but they allowed nothing for Lucan. He's the one who discovered the vampires."
There was a bit of a stir at that. Lucan's abilities were well known of course, but depending on his judgment for something like this was another matter entirely. "I questioned him carefully about what he smelled," Seamere told them. "I'm sure he's not mistaken. Which means we should not underestimate what he can do to help." He took a deep breath. This was going to hit hard, but the sooner it was said the better. "Unless he has mistaken their numbers – which is certainly possible – there are no less than three Vampire Lords in the south woods."
Pandemonium erupted. The threat of being attacked by a Vampire Lord had been practically a given from day one: they had all agreed to join after having been warned extensively of it. That young Lords made unions to ease their hunting was also fact. But to hear that three were coming at once was a hard blow. Vampire Lords were as famous for breaking alliances as they were for making them, so it was rare to face more than two.
Seamere opened his mouth and was pleased to hear an authoritative, stentorian roar emit from his throat. "Everyone, calm down. Numbers are not everything. The fact that they come in a group of three may be proof of their individual weakness – they only ally when forced to, when they cannot manage alone. Clearly these three are young yet, insecure, or simply aware of their limitations. It doesn't matter which. They are weak Lords yet, and we are not weak humans. Aart, you've trained hard: you can already lead that many on a merry dance and never be touched. Byron, we all know you haven't only experimented in Bondsmithing for us: I've seen what you can do with those pounds of steel and your Contract at the night practices. Betlic, you may not have an Empowerment, but you are well armed and you've trained hard in using them, against Empowered, and I have no doubts about your ability to hold your own in a fight."
“I have a new weapon for him as well,” Byron interrupted. “I may have finally achieved a true Enchantment smithing.”
That was not only very good news, but very big news, and caused quite a stir. Metal Contractors were relatively uncommon, and so by extension Metal Contractor smiths were true rarities. But what they could make had been known to shape history and live on in legend – they were the source of the world's greatest magical weapons and armors. Byron had acquired his Contract after choosing to join their settlement, so he had been forced to try and discover the secrets of magic smithing on his own. Bondsmithing had been only the beginning: a true Enchantment had power in anybody's hands. If he'd truly learned to make them, it not only meant powerful weapons for them all in the future, but very possibly true fame for Byron. “That's excellent news Bryon. Congratulations.” There was a general murmur of consent. Seamere let it go on for a few minutes before bringing things back on track. He cleared his throat. “Once again congratulations Byron, but right now we need to plan.” The room went quiet. “We need a plan,” Seamere repeated. “One we can all agree on. There is a good chance we won't be able to win a fight without losses, if we can win at all. We are a settlement, not an army, and casualties are not an inevitable part of our daily lives. We aim to survive: all of us, together. That means if fighting will lead to any of our deaths, we pull back and wait for what Cwen brings us. The question is, do we try to fight first, or run first, now, when there is little they can do to stop us?"
"I don't like just letting them waltz in," Betlic said, eyes angry. Betlic was often angry. "I get that we've no need to fight to the death Seamere, but temporary or not, these are our homes, and you can't ask us to just hand it to them. Besides, we'll only be able to take so many supplies with us: what if they sabotage the farm and other stores? Even if we beat them later we'd be crippled."
"I think he's making a good point about the farm," Aart put in. "We should do something to make sure we can still plant crops later. Hide some seeds, and some tools, maybe.”
Seamere nodded. "I agree. That will be a good task for Lucan I think. He can put it where animals won't find it. I'll want to have Cwen confirm Lucan's report, and see if she can add to it. Baudwyne taught her about evading psychics, just like he did all of us – but she learned it the most. She should be able to do it safely."
"And if she don't, she only need to make it to the clearing to be safe," Betlic growled. "We can lick three weanling Lords in daylight under the open sky. Might be helpful if they tried."
"It might," Seamere said. "But I'd prefer it if she wasn't noticed all the same. She can move quickly, but so can Lords."
"If she needs to lose them, she can always fly,” Aart pointed out. "I can help her make it if she flies.”
“True,” Seamere said. "But we still need to agree: do we plan to fight or plan to be gone? Everyone? Who agrees with Betlic?"
Aart and Byron's hands raised. Cearo's hand fluttered at shoulder level – torn, no doubt, between worrying about her husband and supporting her husband. Support played a large role in their relationship, what with their sharing such similar childhoods: both were un-Empowered scions of mage Empowered families. The vote carried in any case.
"Very well, we fight. In that case, how do we fight? We can't simply meet them in the open here – they'd surround and slaughter us."
"And if they don't know we've found them, then we have the chance to surprise them, stupid to waste it," Byron pointed out.
Seamere had genuinely missed that. “A good point. Any thoughts on how to go about it?”
"Well, we'll all have to be here, or they'll realize something is wrong," Aart said. "Even in our homes, they'll be able to tell if anyone is missing. If they realize that everyone who can't fight isn't there...”
"Which means we need to be here, waiting, with Cearo and Aefre and Annise and Erian ready to run – and we'll need to be sure that they can run. Can we really do that? Putting them at risk isn't acceptable for any reason, I'm sure I don't need to tell you.”
"Lucan's a child, they won't think anything of him being with Cearo and the others," Bryon said thoughtfully. "And the vampires will underestimate him. If we put them on the side farthest from where the vampires are hiding, they'll only face weak minions, maybe even only zombies, even if they try surrounding us. Lucan can handle those."
"They will," Betlic said grimly. "They don't want slaughter, they want strength. They want our damn half living corpses to suck off of on their way to real Lordship. No one escapes, least of all the easy ones. That's how they'll do it."
"But they'll still use weak minions for them," Aart pointed out. "They know they'll need the strong ones to...defeat us." There was a brief, grim silence at the reminder of what losing this battle actually meant. Not death, not life, but a grim cruel parody of the two, still breathing but lacking any of what gave life meaning. No thoughts, no feelings, and even no self. Unless of course they found a seed of psychic in them.
That would be worse. That would make them vampires.
“Very well then,” Seamere said quietly. “If that's how we're going to do it, then let's work out the last of the details.”
Deep in the woods to the south, Jody raised her head at last. The waiting had been the hardest. She hated to wait: her life, for years now, had been driven forward with an intensity that utterly dwarfed the determination that had earned her human nickname. She was Jody, Vampire Lord, Great Lord to be. Nothing less could be allowed. If this was to be her existence, then she would exist as the most powerful of beings. Now at last the final rays of sunset had faded. The time had come. Iron Will and his infuriating superiority would be staying behind by his own decision – the fight would be left to her to direct. The time had come for action, and Jody felt a deep thrill move through her soul as she stood. Yet another step on a long path that she intended to travel as quickly as possible. Another step towards her goal.
“Archard.” she said quietly.
He was beside her almost instantly. No one had ever wanted a more loyal or dependable partner, friend, or battle comrade. Of that, Jody was certain.
“Get them moving around,” she said quietly.
“Weakest to the north?”
“North is nearest the shapeshifter: if we get too close to her too soon we’ll lose the element of surprise. We’ll send weaker minions there, deep, and make them think the attack is all from the south side. Their fighters will move there, and try to cover the retreat of their women and children behind them. The net can move in then. If it comes to it, we can pick them off as they wander the woods after we’ve defeated the real warriors: there’s no shelter they can reach before we find them.”
Archard nodded. “I am with you?”
“Aren’t you always?”
A small smile, all either of them needed anymore, was her only response. Yes. He always was.
“Good. Let me know when they are ready – they have farther to go and they’ll be our slowest.”
“And what do we do while they move?”
“Get closer to the edge, and see what we can pick up. Where they all are, where they should be, even who can do what if we're lucky."
“Iron Will says they used to have a psychic.”
“It’s still worth a try. Only a psychic would be able to catch us doing it anyway.”
Archard hesitated. “Do you believe him?”
“…he’s probably telling the truth. But maybe he exaggerated how strong their psychic was.”
“He would not need to. I don’t think there are any humans who could match him.”
“Then it doesn’t actually matter does it? Whether he killed their psychic or not.”
“…he may have left a mark,” Archard said quietly.”
Jody felt her eyes fill with a hard, excited light. “Yes…if he was that strong..then even if he’d lost he may have left a mark. Something that could be used…something that keeps him from attacking the village himself, even.”
"A weakness," Archard said for her.
“But for now, we attack anyway.”
The night had begun to deepen: the moon, reflecting weak cool rays of borrowed sunlight, had risen high enough to begin to creep across the village over the tops of the huge trees it was surrounded by. But that light was only of use in the clearing the houses rested in. In the woods surrounding, at least to human eyes, it was a time of near total darkness.
Vampires are humans, in truth. Humans with psychic abilities, whose natures have been perverted by the taste of human life-essence, cursed with an addiction so powerful it twists their souls and crushes their morals, and more often than not their minds as well. Their bodies have been changed and enhanced by the energies they consume, and in the case of Lords, they have come to encapsulate immense stores of Vitality through their minions. But they are still fundamentally human. Their weaknesses are a psychic imprint, their powers stolen from their victims. They are human, and humans do not have eyes to truly see in the dark. But they are human, and humans are far more adaptable than one might think.
Of necessity, vampires have become pale-skinned masters of the night.
The figures were dark and light, clothing and skin, darting from the southern edge, moving forward, spreading, sifting, sensing. Assessing. Zombies were too slow and clumsy for this, the first strikes. They would emerge from the woods once the hue and cry had begun. Until then, Jody, Archard, and their four vampire minions would conduct the attack.
“I can't read them," Jody murmured. "Their Castles are strong, stronger than they should be in temporary dwellings."
"They are at the end of their cycle," Archard pointed out.
"But they live there knowing they will move out. Their Walls should be weak. Their psychic must have taught them something after all."
"Does that change anything?"
"...no. If we can't sense them then that means they are all in their cabins, not fleeing or assembling to fight."
Archard's eyes flicked instinctively over the clearing. There was a great deal of open space, the cabins spread far apart. The settlements purpose was, after all, to fell trees. In the dark, under moonlight, the scene was wide dark plains with mounds of black splashed with white silver gild. They themselves, to anyone else watching, would have seemed indistinct motion – except of course for their shapeshifter, viewing the world through borrowed eyes of the night.
In the cabin farthest north, said shapeshifter gripped a length of plain Bondsmithed metal and gauged their progress, eyes narrowed. She cast a sharp glance over her shoulder – Cearo, Anniss, Erian and Lucan got up and moved to cluster by the back door.
"I will take the shifter," Jody whispered. "She is a mother, she will fight fiercest. You take the mage. Keep the minions back at first – all of them. We will have to gauge how much of a threat the others will be."
In a cabin to the north-east, Byron knelt silently on the earth floor, hands pressed to the ground, over the center of a fine web of Bondsmithed metal that snaked out under the walls. His eyes were closed.
Aart was not there.
"Take no risks," Jody whispered finally.
Archard gave her a strange look. Jody felt a corner of her mouth lift. "Within limits. We do have the element of surprise."
Seamere knelt, barefoot and short-sleeved, on the earthen floor of his cabin to the south – they had already passed it. The only difference between his pose and Byron's was the lack of metal. The earth itself was his watchman.
Archard arrived at the mage's door. Jody slipped towards the shifter's. There were no windows large enough to use – they were going to burst through the doors as only beings fueled by the half-lives of uncounted minions could. They now communicated by thought.
Archard's still form turned into barely traceable movement, he hit the solid wooden barrier so fast and hard you could not tell what part of him made contact first, he just seemed to morph into a flowing mass of force that burst the three inch thick oaken door off its frame to flip tumbling backwards into the dark interior.
In midair, the door slowed, reversed direction, and flew back at him, spinning end over end.
Archard's strength was immense but his weight was exactly what it should be: the impact sent him crashing straight back out the way he'd come in, and did significant damage to his face besides. The damage was inconsequential – it had mostly healed by the time he picked himself off the ground. The fact that they were not the ones attacking by surprise bothered him more. So did the door, which wasn't finished with him yet, tumbling and darting about in midair in a way that would have been almost comical if it hadn't been so dangerous. But if it came to damage, Archard could match it – and raise it three.
The door dived at him: Archard defended by attacking, kicking out and splintering the wood for three feet down its length where his heel impacted. Surprise had let the first attack hit: strength, speed, and reflexes meant there was slight chance of a second.
Seamere knew it. The attack had caused weaknesses throughout: he took advantage of it to turn his weapon into three pieces that he flung rapidly, one after the other. Each died an instant death. But by the time the third was done, Seamere had escaped the confines of his cabin – the worst possible place for a mage to fight someone so fast – and positioned himself by the open space that was his and Lucan's training ground. Here he had worked the earth for four years. There was no better place for him to fight for his life.
And the lives of those he protected.
Archard tore into sight and immediately turned at an angle, using his speed to defy Seamere's efforts to track him. Seamere knew better than to try: not with his eyes. He kept them closed, where they could not distract him from the sense of the earth: the earth his opponent had to travel to reach him. He knew the moment Archard left off his circling: a burst of force flung his body away in mid-leap, to tumble to a four legged feral halt. Ferocity had lent a bestial snarl to his features.
This human was as skilled as Iron Will had said. The battle would be difficult.
Jody's entrance had gone somewhat differently.
She too had burst through the door, even harder and faster than Archard had. But most of that was because the door had not been locked or barred: Jody flew through the entrance at the mercy of her own momentum to stumble to a halt halfway across the curiously dark room. And then the door swung shut behind her, and the room plunged into near total darkness.
The night seems dark to us, but that is because we are unused to it. There is nearly always light of some kind: the stars and moon provide faint illumination that none the less can be used with practice. It is only out from under the sky that something approaching true darkness can be found. And well before true darkness, human eyes become useless, even with a vampire's practice.
And well past that point, the eyes of a cat can still see well enough.
This battleground was Cwen's.
Jody dodged by sheer instinct: fast as she was she felt the tips of claws shear through air and cloth and the outermost layers of skin. If they had been outside Jody could have used her speed to keep moving and avoid attacks even without seeing them, but Cwen had trapped her in the house, made of thick strong logs that even Jody could not break with a few strikes: she was not nearly so high ranked a Lord yet.
Jody's ears picked up Cwen's movement; she snarled and rushed towards the sounds, striking out blindly with both hands: Cwen avoided them but not entirely, losing strips from her side as Jody went past to hit the wall behind. The impact stunned her; Jody had compensated for the fact that she could not see her target with speed. But she could hear the drip of blood come to a halt all too soon, and knew she hadn't done enough damage. A shifter could mold flesh like clay – a wound that only caused negligible blood loss or failed to paralyze the process with pain was a short lived victory. Cwen's voice hissed out of the dark.
“It will be one part in ten vampire. One drop of my blood for ten of yours!”
Jody could heard the movement, feel the wind of displaced air, but none of it was enough – she fought with disoriented reflexes and enraged helplessness while her opponent filled the air with swift clawed strokes, flesh flowing to replicate by craft what she or Archard could do through sheer Vitality; she could not even tell what shape the shifter was using in the dark, or even if there was one; a shifter whose understanding ran deep enough could attack from almost anywhere on her body. And then she felt a metal blade slice her face directly behind the fire of claws, and realized something else that filled her with rage.
“Bondsmithed metal!” She spat. “He never said your metal Contractor was a smith!!” Bondsmithed metal became attuned to its owners Empowerment: metal Bonded to a shifter could integrate with her changes, increasing both her damage and defense. And lord alone knew what weapons the others had, if there was such a man in the settlement. Dragons sear him and Rocs scatter his ashes! How dare he withhold something like this!
“So you know something about us. How?”
“Our ally killed your psychic, he knows all about you!” Jody snarled.
There was a soft, deadly silence.
“That,” Cwen said quietly. “Would be my husband.”
The earth shifted under Archard; he leaped aside and returned to his circling, remembering that it was foolishness to stay in one place. You kept moving when you fought an earth mage or Contractor, if you didn't want to be buried alive.
“You seem under-manned for this attack,” Seamere said. He still stood unmoving, the inviolate center of Archard's rapid circling, arms spread and feet planted, head bowed and eyes closed. It looked like he was vulnerable, but he wasn't. He just wasn't using his body.
“You seem over-confident, so early in the battle.”
“The goal of young Lords like you is to subdue and create minions of your victims. Just you and one other are attacking? We can destroy that many. No wilderness settlement would dare be any less weak.”
“We have minions.”
“Lumbering meat and vampire fodder – our Wind Contractor will make sure none of them can help you. This is too few, and you know it. Why did you try?”
“You speak too soon.”
“You speak without answers, you hide something.”
“It isn't natural to hide things from your enemy?”
Seamere smiled slightly: a brief chuckle escaped. “It certainly is. Earth Bloom!”
With a soft, muffled burst, the surface of the earth flew into the air in clouds, obscuring the night with dust. Archard gasped and coughed as he struggled not to stumble on his face. Eyes were temporarily worse than useless, an invitation to pain and tears. He could no longer use his blinding speed for fear of hurting himself.
He could no longer avoid an earth mage's most classic counter.
For the first time, Seamere's head came up, and his next words were fierce roar. “Earth's Mouth!”
The ground under Archard opened up, gaping to swallow him from feet to waist, then closed, crushing him in lips of rock and soil. Seamere's right hand reached into a pouch under his shirt and came out carrying a small piece of metal: his own Bondsmithed weapon. It was only a foot long, the handle in the middle: the ends were shaped, one as a blade, the other as a club. For a mage, a Bondsmithed weapon was something that channeled your power into more effective shapes.
Telekinesis is simply the application of force: up, down, sideways, or whichever. A blade is simply a way of applying force along such a narrow line that what it hits, parts. And a club is merely the broad brute application of force.
The tool twirled in his fingers and ended blunt side up: his body turned to face where Archard struggled as the weapon rose over his head. It was so small, but when Seamere swung it down, it was with his whole body, as if he wielded a mighty mace.
Fully five feet wide of earth impacted in front of him as if a tree had fallen on it: as the path of impact stretched ahead it broadened to almost twenty. The dust burst apart and blew away from its path, the earth shuddered.
Archard took the blow full on his crossed arms: he howled, in both pain and defiance, as his arms crunched downward over his head under the force; the pain went straight through his head and triggered something primal that reached through his bond with his minions and with Jody, drawing on a huge burst of Vitality that broke him free of the earth around him, allowing him to scramble free of the hole he'd been trapped in. The dust was now clear, but Archard was a vampire, and a vampire is a psychic – the power of vitality, that their stolen half-lives give them, is not truly under their control: their body makes use of it automatically. His former speed was now impossible: his body had been harmed, grievously harmed, and until the damage was healed all his other traits were crippled, put aside by his body's instincts of survival. Seamere had succeeded in one of the most essential tactics of vampire killing: to inflict a serious wound. The opening it created could easily be wrought into his death.
The weapon twirled again in Seamere's hands: now the blade was up. His arm went up, back and sideways: once again he swung, with his whole body, this time in a full vertical roundhouse: the training stand that held Lucan's log fell in two and a groove carved itself into the wall of his house as the invisible blade traced a deadly path through the air that could have felled hundred year old trees. Archard dropped flat to the ground and felt the wind of its passing flatten his clothes to his back. His arms were healing, but he had a good thirty seconds at least before he could really evade attacks again. That wasn't going to be enough.
It was time to call in the minions.
The attack that followed was so rapid and furious Jody couldn't tell how many strikes there were; it felt like one slash that never ended, like she was being attacked by a spiked wheel that spun on its axis, carving her from all directions into a thousand x shapes, her flesh weakened till it no longer healed, but hung flaccid, her Vitality only keeping her from bleeding to death, they were all over her body, a thousand criss-crossing cuts...
Oh no...there were crosses in her body.
And now the cabin seemed to fade before her eyes: the curse of the vampire's legacy, the memory of the First Vampire's death rose in her head, she couldn't resist, even her Lord's will wasn't enough to suppress it: she was underwater, bound flat to crossed wooden beams that held her with ropes and magic, trapped in an endless loop of regeneration as her body drowned over and over again, raging at the sun above, raging at her captors, developing the means to kill her at their leisure, raging, raging, raging...raging...
Jody was screaming without knowing it: her eyes weren't even trying to see anymore. Cwen didn't notice: Jody had become merely a Thing to Destroy, a object hated so passionately the passion was hard and focused as a crystal blade. They hit the door and went through it: Jody wasn't even cognizant of the change. She was somewhere else, trapped in the memories of the founder of her kind, the memories seared into all his minions and passed on downward for eternity, or until they vanished from the earth. The memories that had become their weaknesses.
Her minions came not because she consciously called them, but because they sensed the body that housed the other half of themselves being threatened.
They came together, from the left, and then spread out to circle behind Cwen, putting her in the middle of a triangle with their master at the point. Most vampire minions were drooling madmen, minds shattered entirely under the strain of those first few days tormented by the Thirst. But Jody had been lucky with hers, and because of this they deliberately positioned themselves, and attacked as one, closing in from behind and both sides as Cwen, seemingly unaware, continued to tear into Jody's flesh as if there were no other purpose for her life. If she had not been a mother, that might have been exactly the truth.
But she was. Murdered husband or not, she had no intention of dying.
She waited until the last possible moment – amateurs that they were, they never realized it. If they had fought shifters before, they might have known how well she could track them without turning her head.
The minions leaped forward with hands extended only to see their quarry seem to melt away before them like water: flowing straight downward and then between them, leaving them to crash into their own mistress in a temporary tangle that was not temporary enough. Cwen didn't even take the time to get up: her weight went on her arms and her weapons went to her feet, scything through their legs and leaving them bleeding out on the ground. The shock reached Jody, who held their other halves, even through her panic, freeing her enough to send vitality to them to stop the bleeding before they died: vampire minions were not easy to get, let alone ones as useful as these. Regeneration could be arranged later. But for now, they were useless for fighting.
For the second time, Cwen and Jody faced each other: Jody standing, but haggard and panting; Cwen still crouched, but unharmed and alert, tensed for the second round. Jody could now see her clearly, but the advantage was still the shifter's: Jody's wounds had already run her resources low before she'd been forced to give some to her underlings. It would take an hour or more to restore herself. It would take Cwen lonely moments to resume the attack.
Seamere knew before they arrived: he sensed the footsteps that were too slow to be a Lord and far too fast to be a zombie. He opened his eyes: there was no need to depend on his mage senses now, and he needed to asses the state of his opponent.
The damage had been solid: both arms were badly broken, probably in multiple places. That meant he could afford to kill the minions. But it would be better not to have to focus on them himself.
“AART!” He roared. “Get into this!”
The formerly still air promptly whipped into a frenzy: a Wind Contractor could not track sounds from anywhere like a shifter's ears, but he could choose an area and bring the sounds to him – as Aart had been doing from his position in the woods, beyond the line of minions. Placed as the reserve who would make sure no zombie interfered with the fight – and join the furor when called.
If Wind Contractors were famed for anything, it was for speed.
Zombies in his path tumbled aside as a small hurricane seemed to blow straight from woods along the north line, carrying their brother, their kin, suspended in their midst – he covered the paltry mile and a half in the time it took Archard's minions to cross the few hundred yards between them and their master.
The end of Aart's flight planted him squarely in their path: his out thrust arms redirected the squall that had brought him and sent them backwards head over heels, lacking the speed or strength of their master to stop themselves.
“Go ahead and kill them Aart, he's wounded!” Seamere roared.
Aart's eyes widened slightly – he hadn't expected orders to kill. To kill a minion was to release the other half of his force inside the master, where it would turn into fiery energy and then fade. If Aart killed these two, Archard would temporarily become much stronger than before. But if Archard's wounds were bad enough, then the energy would be expended to heal him, while Aart would be free to help as he liked.
Aart drew his sword.
Bondsmithed, of course.
The minions had found their feet and were charging him together, but to Aart's eyes, they traveled at a snail's pace. Even a mediocre Wind Contractor like him could run rings around the likes of them. The place where they'd been running toward was suddenly empty, containing only swirling wind and dust – dust that stretched and pointed towards the minion on the left.
The minion could barely see the movement, let alone react. A Wind Contractor could be light as a feather and ran with the blessing of the wind, parting before him and pushing behind, but even more importantly he could be close to transparent: in the dark, the combination made him nearly invisible. What the minion saw of the attack truly looked like a wraith of a man, blue eyes hard and determined, sword raised, blurred by the winds that coiled around it.
Aart's body passed under the minions arm – his sword carved through it from right shoulder to left hip; the cutting wind that extended from it became an arc of blood that sailed out from behind its rent body. Archard's head snapped back as the energy hit him, pouring down his arms, straightening bone with an unnerving crackling sound. Aart's path turned towards the second. It had no better chance than the first.
“Now that,” Iron Will said. “I cannot be having.”
From more than three miles south, an invisible wave poured towards the village, widening as it went. Night owls fell senseless to the ground next to prone foxes too dazed to even think of sampling the defenseless meat around them – every conscious creature in its path cowered or shuddered or fell, as the psychic power passed by. Not a leaf stirred.
In the eyes of everyone embattled in the village, the world suddenly blurred and jumped, waving and twisting in a reality that was suddenly muddy and thick, surreal and unstable. Seamere found himself on his knees, desperately trying to pull his thoughts back together. “The third Lord,” he said, eyes wide. Byron and Betlic had been waiting to take him, but...that was impossible. No one in their village could fight such a powerful psychic. Even Baudwyne...if anything could have killed him, the source of this wave was it.
The fight was over. Seamere slapped the ground and roared, knowing that everyone else would recognize the signal. “EARTH BLOOM!”
Throughout the clearing dirt and dust spewed – a fog of debris filled the air. Aart immediately abandoned his attack and called the wind again, whipping the clouds into a driving storm that left their attackers crouched with their hands over their heads, while leaving clearer paths from where the villagers were into the northern forest. In his cabin, Byron recalled all of his steel and ran out the front door, heading north – Betlic was right behind him. Cwen grimaced and turned, disappearing swiftly into the woods on the trail of her son's scent. Jody had no strength to follow.
Seamere left the clearing last. Bryon, the rearguard, crouched shortly past the edge, arms spread, metal lying in wait for any enemies who followed too closely.
“Drop it and go!” Seamere barked. “We've lost for now.”
Bryon nodded: steel rolled like thick water up his arms to gather about his shoulders and back. “That psychic is too strong.”
“I know,” Seamere said grimly. “It's no use now. We'll have to wait for help – and we'll need both Baudwyne's parents to be in it.”
“Until then, we'll have to survive.”
|Someday Wars: Prologue||Someday Wars, Chapter One: From a Clear Sky|