It slithered past the grass with corrosive effect, a fog – slow and unnatural; with the sky overcast, it moved within the embrace of darkness, of a night a few hours until sunrise. It probed for entry into Raskas, but halted without intent, restrained by an incomprehensible wall – invisible, and yet structured to the city’s defence. In the cursed fog’s second attempt at infiltration, it noticed a change, an oddity that forced retreat.
As the fog traced a path of return to its summoner, it felt a pull from the great sea behind Raskas. It bottled into a sphere, against the will of its magic, and then dispersed entirely. With the veil lifted, Raskas shone a light into the lands in front of it. General Conatus manipulated the water from the sea to collect what remained of the fog; it hovered atop his palm – freed from primary control, and with a life of its own. He scratched at its surface, breaking into a formula – information, enough to guide a light towards enemy soldiers.
Conatus gazed upon the formations, disciplined soldiers – in position to set siege to the city of Raskas. He continued through the ranks, but settled upon the sight of someone familiar. She smiled, wary of the eyes upon her, and retreated from the light. Once within the confines of her tent, Jacquelyn frowned at the thought of failure – in her inability to weaken the city and its soldiers via the cursed fog. She covered her mouth, screamed into her palms, and then eased into an expression of calm. Without thought, she returned to confront the Godvildian General.
As the shroud lifted, the soldiers from Raskas manned the outer walls, quivers by their feet, and with bows crafted to the sixth tier. Conatus climbed to a higher floor, the moon freed from an overcast sky, and reunited with Gale.
“Did it work?” asked Conatus, with a slight nod.
“Well, they’re here,” answered Gale. “I suppose this is as good as it gets.”
“They managed to scramble into position before sunrise, even,” remarked Conatus, in praise. “It must be important for them to contain us here – not intervene with the events at Shadowmere.”
“Of course,” said Gale, in agreement. “It’s not possible to help at Shadowmere now, not for us. But this is a good chance for us to weaken Relictan strength; we have a Lord amidst them, and this army, it’s far from insignificant.”
“This ought to weaken the possibility of an alliance between them and the Cursed King as well,” said Conatus, slowly. “It’s critical, our role here.”
“Yes; yes, indeed.”
General Conatus raised his head skyward, and then towards Gale. He steadied a mild tremor across his arms, breathing into a state of serenity. His aeter chirped, in a flow that mimicked the waves, the sea. It held onto a gentle shade of blue, an aura that flared as a lighthouse would, from the highest point on Raskas. In time, a portion of the sea erupted, allowing for pillars of water to emerge and collect at an open space outside city walls.
Horses neighed at the sight; and some of the soldiers, they stirred in restless anticipation. It meant something, when the water parted to take the shape of a door – then more, hundreds. Conatus steadied both arms and pushed against the air in front of him; it represented a welcome, for light to torrent into the battlefield.
Slowly, the dust settled to the sound of something warlike – something foreign and strange. When vision returned, some noticed weapons, and others – bodies suited to battle.
Orcs, ethereal in their constitution, and with weapons aeter-made. They warned with a roar, with impact enough to rattle the earth; they threatened with another, with power enough to impact the weakest of enemy soldiers.
“A lot more than I had asked for,” said Gale, in awe of the display. “It’s imperative that you maintain your aeter reserves, General.”
“I’m aware,” said Conatus, smiling as he did. “It’s a third-tier summoning; I believe them to be suitable for the task at hand.”
“There’s little need to hesitate then,” said Gale. “At the crack of second light?”
“At the crack of second light,” said Conatus, in agreement.
The Godvildian General noticed the winds shift in intent; it urged for the clouds to pass through the moon once more. With the darkness, the region descended into a state of fragile silence. Conatus raised an arm in anticipation of another shift. For a moment, the winds stilled into tension; it suffocated. But then they moved, the clouds – in inches, and slow. At the sound, Conatus clenched palm into fist; he gulped for a moment, and then commanded the charge.
Under the spell of darkness, Jacquelyn lingered amidst the stench of fear. She felt it prickle her skin, through her soldiers – their emotions. It helped her fade into thought, eyes closed and unburdened. In that moment, she held onto peace, weakened only by the touch of light. It tickled her skin, the moon and its splinters through the clouds. She embraced the serenity, the sky – its canvas, infinite with stars and a sense of freedom. But it also meant a stop, a signal, echoed further by the sound of death.
Jacquelyn opened her eyes and breathed into the fear in front of her. She watched the approach, the rush of unrestrained madness. At the sight, her soldiers tapped feet against ground – eager in their desire for a command. It led to nod, and then a slow march. With a gesture, the Relictan Lord directed her soldiers to risen shields, and with another – to tightened spears.
On closer proximity, the orcs slowed to offer a prolonged roar. They faced skyward in a prayer, and then returned with faces stretched into smiles. With another sprint, the aeter-made creatures speared into the Relictan army – armed and with a thirst for blood. But despite the rabid aggression, Jacquelyn had managed to steady her soldiers into formation. Behind inspired war cries, the Relictan army shielded advancement, losing ground, but with enough heart to hold their first line of defence.
It moved in a sequence, the Relictan strategy – with fatigued soldiers pressured into retreat, often replaced by those of fresher mind and body. But in inches, the orcs continued to cover ground; they pressed with frustration, determined to reach the invading commander.
Jacquelyn noticed the bodies, of her soldiers – bloodied and shapeless in the wake of the orcs’ rampage. Her eyes shifted to the sides for a moment; in time, her lips moved with whispers of a slow count. She clenched her teeth with nervous energy, but held to her sense of patience. It continued, the count – in line with the orcs’ advancement. It tore her apart almost, the wait. But as her mind slipped from focus, she heard something – a voice, overcome with urgency.
“My Lady,” whispered the soldier. “They’ve breached the marked line. It is time, now.”
In response to the observation, the Relictan Lord raised an arm – aeter at her fingertips, and launched what appeared to be a flare.
In bewilderment, Gale scratched the back of his head. He folded his legs and took a seat at the edge of the tower, the carnage of war in front of him. With a tilt, his arms stretched to reach for a gourd; he uncorked the container and then lowered his nose in analysis of its contents. He took a gentle sip at first, and then paused – his hand in a tremor.
At a distance, and from the tower, the Half-Lord noticed the earth rattle in frenzy. He watched the orcs penetrate the Relictan army, but without impact. His ears perked at the sound of rhythmic footsteps, gallops and cries – from the sides and in haste. Amidst the risen dust and debris, Gale noticed the silhouette of something majestic, and then more – in shadows behind the first. They curved in their strides, tapering to contain the possibility of escape.
“Mounted troops?” asked Gale.
“Yes,” confirmed Conatus, with a frown. “The orcs pushed in far too deep without breaking enemy formation; they’re trapped now.”
“Is it possible for them to break away, maybe?”
“Perhaps,” said Conatus, uncertainly. “But given your request, the double envelopment works to our benefit.”
“Very well then,” said Gale, with a shrug. “As discussed, I’ll leave the first part to you.”
“Don’t worry,” assured Conatus. “Within the Godvildian Empire, Raskas ranks rather highly for its ability to defend against invaders.”
With a nod, the Godvildian General turned to face the battlefield once more. He tugged at the aeter bound to the orcs, and commanded a retreat; they responded with aggression, fierce in their desire for escape. The aeter-made creatures abandoned their charge against the infantry and moved to the flanks.
In the meantime, General Conatus gestured for his soldiers to man the walls – elementalists, bound to the element of water. They steadied into a chant and manipulated the aeter to merge into a collective essence, amplifying the magic in effect; a part of the preparation and nothing more. It busied the walls, more so with the archers rushing into formation behind their elemental counterparts.
As commander to the archers, Augustine joined the Godvildian General to aid in the effort. She helped organize the soldiers, and reassured her father of the situation at hand. Her attention then shifted to the battlefield – the dwindling numbers, from hundreds to tens. And while the orcs had continued to rampage through the retreat, they had reduced in status, becoming prey to the double envelopment.
“What do you think?” asked Conatus.
“If it’s meant to cripple, then yes,” said Augustine. “We’re good, very good.”
When the last of the orcs had fallen, General Conatus added to the collective essence; it forced the clouds into a stir. At the first crack of thunder, the aeter trembled into something darker – thick in its consistency. It erupted with the smell of decay and eased into a rumble, unencumbered in its growth. With a shadow cast over much of the Relictan army, a portion of the collective essence plummeted to moisten soil and restrain movement.
In another eruption, the clouds broke into a downpour; it caused little damage, but burned upon contact. Some avoided it altogether, the earliest to return in the aftermath of their battle against the orcs. But for the many, they faced it until drenched, limited by the spell that had bound them to the earth.
“Book of Elements: Rain of Rot,” whispered Conatus, in completion of the spell. With a deep breath, he then turned to his daughter, in encouragement, and said, “I trust you can handle the reins for a while?”
The Godvildian General took a gentle step away from command; he walked a little and rested next to Gale – shoulders relaxed, and with an expression that reflected pride. Conatus offered an arm to the Half-Lord; and Gale, he obliged with a smile.
“I’ve learnt a lot today,” said Gale, appreciatively. “Thank you for your guidance.”
“Well, it’s not for free,” said Conatus, with a laugh. “You promised me a show; don’t leave me disappointed, Half-Lord.”
“I’ll try not to,” said Gale. “But what’s your review of the prelude to it?”
“I’ve seen enough to trust it blind,” said Conatus, confidently. “She’s the smartest person I know – my daughter; second only to Lord Bahrain, perhaps.”
Augustine shook her head furiously, and refocused to the task at hand. With tightened grip, she unsheathed her blade and pointed it towards the invading army. In response, the archers pulled from their quivers and held their bows at draw.
“Loose; warning!” yelled Augustine, absent any form of hesitation.
Amidst the silence that followed, an arrow launched towards the heavens. It arched, tore into flames, and then pierced into target upon descent. The archer glared at his mark, a Relictan soldier – in a struggle to free arrow from chest. He counted in whispers, and then raised his bow in celebration. It puzzled the Relictan army at first; but as the cogs continued in its march with time, an explosion followed – unlike any other.
Drenched from the rotten rain, the moisture catalysed the flame towards destruction. Blood and flesh, it splattered onto soldiers in the vicinity – distorting bodies into more explosions. It spread as a disease would, fire, in an unstoppable chain that shattered Relictan morale. At the sight, Augustine encouraged further celebration – her eyes cold, and merciless.
“Archers,” bellowed Augustine, once more. “Show them hell.”
It struck fear, the smell of charred flesh. Soldiers broke formation in a desperate attempt to flee from the range of the fire; they cried over the idea of their misfortune. Jacquelyn watched as it tore into the hearts of her soldiers, an ocean of flames – wild and unrestrained. She leapt into the air in haste, atop aeter-made pedestals, to clear away from the chaos. Her aeter forced a gate into existence, in hurried effort, and at a distance in front of her.
As the gates opened, the Relictan Lord reached into what appeared to be an abyss; her hands pulled with impatience, the head of beast that resembled a lion. It groaned in pain – jaws in an overbite, and with eyes in a line, across either side of the nose. Jacquelyn noticed the injuries, the cost of a rushed summoning – a being of once power, reduced to insignificance. But it didn’t matter, not to her – not at that time.
“Summon Spirit: Wailing Lion,” said Jacquelyn, breathless. “Voice of the Emperor!”
Upon command, the beast struggled – a cough at first, and then a growl. It bled through its ears, a specimen of weakened will. But in another attempt, the odd creature managed to fill chest with air; it beamed with pride in a roar that shattered the fabric of sound – a wave of energy that subdued fear, veiling the battlefield with a blanket of calm. Jacquelyn embraced her summoned familiar; it panted, in a tremble and without strength. In time, the creature disintegrated, fading into nothingness.
“Rest well, old friend,” whispered the Relictan Lord. She slowly turned to address her soldiers next, airborne and with an expression of courage, “Knock terror from your hearts!” she yelled.
In the face of a muted response, Jacquelyn quietened thoughts and reached into the depths of her soul. She steadied palm into fist, in memory of her fallen comrades, and rallied the cry once more – only louder this time, “Knock terror from your hearts!”
Jacquelyn persisted with the phrase, until a soldier repeated after her, and then more. She grew bolder with each word, stronger with each response. It begged for victory – a scream that signalled to renewed courage.
“Knock terror from your hearts!” bellowed the soldiers, in unison – some with charred flesh, lost limbs, and others with mended hearts and weapons sharpened to focus.
“Contain the fire!” commanded Jacquelyn, reassured of her soldiers’ morale.
In formation, a small unit of soldiers responded with march into wildfire. They separated aeter from flame – in manipulation of an element they controlled best. It swirled into a sphere, and then a wall, allowing the soldiers on reserve to recover those incapacitated. Jacquelyn used the time to settle into an idea; she issued the order, with neither doubt nor hesitation.
“Scale the walls,” said Jacquelyn, drenched from the sweat of stress. “We take the city today!”
As the sun crept through the horizon, a secondary set of soldiers sprinted through the flames and into the open. They moved with speed unparallel, and with evasive manoeuvres fast enough to avoid Godvildian arrows. In a jump, they blitzed the walls, past the barrier, and strode towards the top – a charge of electricity around their heels. They met with resistance, oil as hot as the hottest of flames, poured atop those in a rush, and with destructive effect. One after the other, the invading soldiers plummeted, to their deaths; but a few persisted – using the bodies of those sacrificed as foothold to the heavens. All they needed was for one to make it past the defence, to endure for long enough to disrupt Godvildian coordination. And they did, several of them.
The Relictan army roared at the success of split blood atop the walls of Raskas. Jacquelyn sighed in relief, and then raised sword against the city.
“Charge; charge!” screamed the Relictan Lord, repeatedly.
And charge they did.
The city walls trembled under pressure from rams battering into closed gates. It was chaos with soldiers in combat from both sides, with the outer walls now compromised. Conatus watched his daughter partake in the bloodshed, a mild frown on his face. He looked to Gale, who had yet to participate in the war; it bothered him.
“How long can your soldiers hold?” asked Gale, without emotion.
“This shouldn’t be a problem, I suppose,” said Conatus, slowly – taken aback by the question, or rather the suddenness of it. “Why do you ask?”
“There’s an interesting story to it,” said Gale, smiling as he did. “Would you like for me to share?”
“It’s hardly the time, Half-Lord,” said Conatus. “I’m afraid I’ll have to insist that you take over, as previously discussed.”
“Humour me, why don’t you?” said Gale. “I promise to not bore through the affair.”
Conatus eyed the Godvildian Half-Lord, a soldier without true rank. It made him wonder, about the boy’s potential – if it meant anything. He almost protested once more but held tongue out of curiosity; with a sigh, Conatus resigned to the persistence.
“A couple of years ago, I was asked a question by the three strongest people I had ever come to face with,” started Gale, his eyes on the battlefield. “They wanted to know if I would have been interested in serving under them, to absorb a portion of their divinity and grow in rank, with them at the helm. I refused.”
“Interesting, I’ll admit,” mustered Conatus, intrigued by the revelation. “What made you decline their offer?”
“It wasn’t too hard, to be honest,” said Gale. “I had assumed that I would be given another opportunity should I have realized my choice as a mistake. It allowed me the opportunity to explore and understand the depths of my potential; I later entered Basaraa Forest by purpose of a quest and learned a lot more than I would have within Suntarian walls. That’s what I believe, at least.”
General Conatus scratched his chin – mind torn between story and battle; he feared the consequences of a prolonged conversation but felt compelled to trust in his comrade. It bewildered him, the choice of silence.
“But I had another reason to carve into a path of my own; it was in the realization of what it meant, the title – Sword of Suntaria, monsters without equal,” said Gale, grimly. “Tell me then, General Conatus; do monsters grow under the command of other monsters, tethered and restrained?”
In narration, Gale rose to his feet. He needed the words to reinforce thought, to echo his role within the World of Transition. Upon request, his aeter urged the start of an odd sequence – an unknown. He gathered it within the depths of his heart and unleashed an inaudible sound. It blanketed the entirety of the battlefield, but without impact, leaving the invading army unharmed.
Conatus remained motionless through the effort; it frightened him, the thought of failure. But in the moments that followed, he gaped – driven to the complexity of both fear and astonishment. He struggled to understand the phenomenon, of distortions that ripped into space, granting passage for what could only be described as an army.
They marched with the rising sun, a representation of the night – a veil of darkness. Hundreds, heavily armoured, thousands mounted atop either horses or boars; several followed in the rear, attired with enhancements – elementalists, tasked with bombardment. The rest occupied territory amidst the clouds, creatures that likened to stags, winged and as black as a moonless night.
In another command, a few emerged from within the shadows even, casting turmoil amidst enemy ranks. They sandwiched the Relictan army, six thousand strong and under the servitude of Kalika – goblins and perytons.
“It’s time for the gates to open,” said Gale, in an announcement. “We must tighten the trap, now.”
“Is, is that your army?” asked Conatus, in a stammer.
Gale paused to embrace the situation at hand; he faded into the ethereal guidebook, in remembrance of what he had earned from his victory against the Hearth King.
Blessing: Divinity from the Goddess of the Black Night
Description: Your ancestry has earned you favour from Kalika, a powerful goddess of the Hindu pantheon.
“Was it the complexion that gave it away?” asked the Half-Lord, with a soft laugh.
It took a little over another hour; but with the gates opened, the Godvildian army had managed to force a surrender.
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