Monsters do come in organized attacks. It is not uncommon at all. Packs of flying wolves or giant rats are normal, as are bands of goblins or orcs. Wild ogres are frankly just like very large, primitive humans, so working in groups is their default behavior. Although with ogres, it’s the lone wolves expelled from tribes that are the troublemakers an adventurer or village is likely to face.
But the group in front of us was unheard of. Because the rule for monsters was “birds of a feather flock together”. Interspecies cooperation was something one only observed among civilized species.
“What is this? Are the gods playing some cruel joke on us?” Bruna asked in a quiet voice.
“Don’t say such dangerous things before a fight,” Ceria chided her.
Two trolls, a half-dozen orcs, numerous goblins, black wolves, rock boars, giant rats, giant hive spiders… it was an inexplicable army of monsters, which should have been automatically battling each other on sight, but were facing us as a military formation from Hades instead.
If we retreated into the woods, they would follow us in and it would become a chase with a foregone conclusion, at least for my two companions. I did not see anything in this crowd that could fly, so I would survive if we ran. Alone.
Unacceptable. Tiana’s pride as a knight refused this outcome. I had to find a way to defend the sisters.
I could see nothing that should have been clouded my senses, yet my fairy sense was still muddled, and my fairy sight seemed weirdly hazy. I could see enough to tell that there was little in the way of magic shields before me. The magic user responsible was not evident to my senses at all, which likely meant he was hiding.
Bruna and Ceria understood the situation without discussion. Bruna leveled her glaive and took a step forward, while Ceria stepped over and back into a support position, a few steps behind and to one side of her sister.
It was an impressive sight. Bruna’s weapon looked like a naginata on one end and a spike on the other, and it had shaft that was made of steelbranch, the strongest wood there is. I had yet to see her use it in an actual fight, but holding it, she looked every inch an amazon. Ceria had transformed from a pleasant cat girl into a predator-like mage, her staff held before her, firmly braced in her hands.
I stepped up next to Bruna and put a hand on her arm. “Wait.”
She glanced over with a frown. “Lady, I’m not gonna let them take my sister. You grab her and fly away while I slow them down.”
Those words came with a look that said, it’s obvious that’s what you should be doing while I’m doing this.
Ceria pursed her lips and frowned. I could see her ready to argue, but I didn’t wait for her.
“I refuse,” I declared. “I’m bringing both of you back to the jobs office with me.”
“We aren’t going to win against this!”
“You and your sister, guard each other and stay back for the moment” was my answer. “Wait for me to thin this crowd down a bit before you join.”
“Who is paying your salary?!!” I snapped. After slinging my still-drawn crossbow, (which was a little dangerous, but it wasn’t loaded yet), I pulled my sword and moved forward onto the stony ground.
Aunt Elianora taught me quite a lot about my vampire side. Especially about the innate powers that pull off what would normally be complex, high-level spells entirely by instinct. The same way that the average bird is a more skillful flyer than the greatest fighter pilot ever born, my brain came pre-equipped with a number of incredible skills that would tax the greatest mages. They had a limit range of uses beyond blood feeding, but under the right circumstances they came in incredibly handy.
People fear vampires, but they don’t know too much about them. They only know vampires possess hypnotic powers. I was about to use one of those, but fortunately, it was a power that I should be able to pass off as ‘fairy magic’ to the sisters. And thanks to my experience now with actually controlling mana effectively, I now understood much more clearly what my aunt had been teaching me about it. I could amplify it much better than before.
Halting about five paces ahead of the sisters, I raised my sword overhead. Taking a deep breath, along with which I gathered from the surroundings the darkness and aether mana that together power vampire magic, I looked up at the sword above my head, then unfurled my wings to make myself absolutely the largest I could possibly be.
Although I wasn’t looking, I could sense it clearly as the monster crowd broke into a charge in response to my advance. But my lungs were now full and excessive mana crawled over every inch of my skin. At the moment my wings reached full spread, I dropped my line of sight, leveling my eyes down onto the oncoming horde and, in my loudest voice, pouring every drop of that mana into it, delivered a vampiric Command.
“RUN AWAY FROM HERE, AS FAR AS YOU CAN!”
A majority of the stamped broke sideways and fled, running in two streams to each side of us into the forest behind us. But a few wolves and orcs continued marching toward us, as well as, sadly, both trolls.
That surprised me. I should have had more effect on the higher level monsters, and less on the instinct-driven low-level monsters, yet it looked like I had just done the opposite. It could only mean that I would have turned all of them, had the magic user on the other side not been dominating the more intelligent ones better than I could control them.
What I did used a combination of Aether and Darkness, although something similar can be done with just one or the other. Simple domination, though, is pure dark magic. We were facing a powerful dark mage.
Ceria and Bruna either had minds strong enough to not break under my coercion, or I had successfully screened them as I intended. Now they advanced. I didn’t wait for them. With a mighty wing stroke, I pushed into the air. Two rapid wing beats drove me straight at one of the trolls.
There’s a somewhat questionable theory that, if in a prison yard fight, you should punch out the biggest, meanest-looking dude first. That sounded like a quick suicide plan to Robert, but here I was doing exactly that. The troll raised his club as I advanced, his broad heavy lips splitting into a grin, stretching pale, acne-ridden skin and revealing a mouth full of disease and saliva.
I was traveling too fast for him to swing the club in time. I tucked wings and legs in and cannonballed across his shoulder as I tried to plunge my sword into an eye socket. I missed though, and simply tore a long, horrid gash in the side of his skull, partially detaching his ear in the process. But I kicked off his shoulder blade as I unfurled my wings again, which slowed my descent. I sheathed my sword as I hit the ground, then turned, and tucked my wings again. I was a safe distance from the other monsters and the troll was turning to face me.
I unslung my crossbow and yanked out another enchanted bolt from my belt. I didn’t use the one stuck in the crossbow stock because, frankly, I had forgotten in the heat of the moment that it was there.
A really amazing one-on-one combat was taking place between Bruna and the other troll. But in the background, I could see the rest of the monsters headed straight for what probably looked like the weakest member of our party. Ceria had a strong wind barrier deployed. That was now three elements out of the seven available that I had seen her manipulate. The great majority of effective combat mages could manage two. Of course, the great majority couldn’t cast third-level magic or higher.
But no matter how strong that barrier was, it wasn’t going to hold for long against an onslaught of wolves and orcs.
I slapped the bolt into the crossbow’s flight groove and leveled it at the troll that was now lumbering forward, his club rising up with the intention of squashing me like a roach. The one Bruna was facing was wearing a breechcloth made of mad bear pelt. But mine was naked and I truly did not need the sight of his junk swinging hither and yon.
I thought something looked off about his skin. It had a strangely dead-looking color. He did not appear to be undead, though. But I had no time to worry about it. Sighting right between two piggish eyes that glared at me from within heavy folds of flesh, I fired. The crack of the bolt’s sonic boom echoed throughout the cavern.
He rocked backward, dropping his club as a giant red divot was ripped out of his forehead. Having no more time to waste on him, I sprang into the air again, flying up and over him in an arc toward Ceria’s position.
I watched as the wolves slammed into her barrier, snarled and tore at the tornado-like layer of air defending her. One tried to push through it and found itself yanked sideways and thrown off. It then became apparent what sort of spell she had preloaded, as a magic formation appeared around the other wolf instantly. I saw her lips moving, then the wolf erupted in flame.
Light, Aether, Wind and now Fire. She had used four elements out of the seven available now. And Bruna was still successfully soloing a troll. I was going to have to check around when we got back; these two girls might just be famous adventurers.
Two more wolves were arriving now, and three orcs directly behind them. There were two other orcs near Bruna that appeared to be injured, but they were preparing to charge her.
You never leave your magic user exposed longer than absolutely necessary. I had to reach Ceria right away.