How the hell? Blaine was the only one who managed the
appropriate reaction. Bryce instinctively reached for his
crystal, ready to throw up a shield in the event of any funny
business. Donovan hadn't bothered to turn around. He didn't
react at all, actually. If he was surprised, he suppressed it
well. If he wasn't, his perception still hasn't gotten any
better, for not only was there no reason for the cloaked figure
to be behind him, but that Donovan had watched him die.
least one of you knows how to make me feel welcome,” Kendrick
said. He removed his cloak, hanging it up on the rack mounted to
the wall. He wore entirely black, save for a sash covered in
dozens of bright gems. “Sorry for the intrusion, Chief, but I
noticed these three enter your office and couldn't help but say
next to Dimsgrud's desk, making sure that Donovan could see him.
Then he smiled. “We go way back. Isn't that right, Donovan?”
waited to make eye contact, but did so in one sharp, dramatic
motion. “So! You return as a spirit to torment me!” He
snickered. “How very predictable of you.”
frowned. “Why do I ever expect you to react appropriately?”
raised a tentative hand. “Um... but he's right. You're dead...
Ever hear of Green Knightshade?”
How the hell did you get a hold of that?”
“Details, details.” Kendrick waved off the question. “Irrelevant
anyway since it was a one-time opportunity. But the legend is
true: temporary immortality while it's in your bloodstream.
Protects you from everything. Even Sho.”
aside, he added, “Although I don't recommend it when you're
drowning or being dismembered. Even waking up inside a brick
wall hurt like the dickens.” He looked up, carefully eying
Donovan and adding, “Especially with no faction to rely on for
probably a major plot revelation, but Donovan missed it
completely. “You have no reason to be here, for your death has
been avenged. Leave us be!”
just said he's not dead,” Bryce said, adding, “Anymore.”
his head, Kendrick said, “Let him think what he wants, minion.
Fact is, we're both here and our objectives are suddenly in
you still haven't explained how you got here. All of us being
together is an awfully weird coincidence.”
smirked. “Maybe, maybe not. Depends.”
Narrowing his eyes, Donovan's voice sharpened. “Of course... my
old nemesis always seeking out a deal.”
Bryce blinked. “He's being vague about whether or not we're all
together by chance. That's not-”
no... Donovan's quite right in this instance,” Kendrick said
with a bright smile, resisting the urge to add 'for once.' “But
before we get into that...” He jostled Dimsgrud's shoulder. The
dwarf woke up.
Dimsgrud rubbed his eyes. “Sorry. I can only hear that 'coming
back from the dead' story so many times.” He turned to Donovan.
“This guy talks about it every chance he gets. The folks here
eat it up like mutton. Supposedly the guy that killed him was
allied with the Endrell leadership. Everyone loves that part.”
nodded. “Indeed. Isn't that what everyone yearns for? Conquest
over the leadership... even in death? It was my death that
prompted the recent uprisings here. What say the mighty dwarves
of Tulas finish the job?”
sell that to the townsfolk all you want,” Dimsgrud grumbled.
have.” Kendrick smiled. “And my, how they've bought in. They
want the world. You can give it to them. And Donovan may be able
to promise us support from some of the most powerful magi in the
smirked. “Indeed. I have an army of sorcerers ready to follow me
to the ends of the earth. All we want is a fight.”
all delusional!” Dimsgrud shouted. “They're too strong. What
advantage do we have over everybody else?”
them, we know where to strike.” Kendrick grinned, steepling his
fingers. “Eliminate the orcs from the equation and the Hageshoni
are quite vulnerable. And I happen to know of a battlefield
where orcs refuse to fight.”
refusing to fight?” Dimsgrud grunted. “Even if that were true,
why didn't you tell that group avenging you?”
raised a finger, nodding. “You know, it's surprisingly hard to
get a message through from beyond the grave. I certainly did
try.” He eyed Donovan. “It was a trickier endeavor that ran into
probably a major plot revelation, but Donovan standing up in
fury had nothing to do with it. “Enough of this chatter! We have
ground forces. We have sorcery. We have a target. We must strike
the love of...” Dimsgrud stood up. It... wasn't all that
dramatic seeing as how he was a dwarf. “You win over the
townsfolk, you give the mining company an excuse, you have magi
ready to back us up.” He sighed. “Fine. You want your war? You
walked around the table, huffing his way past Donovan toward the
door. He opened it, but stopped, turned around and shouted. “But
when we rule over Enriel, don't expect us to do you any favors.
We're running this show our way.” He slammed the door shut.
the least I can do for your trouble,” Kendrick said.
him, Bryce sighed. “Sir, do you really think teaming up with
Kendrick is a good idea? Besides, I thought the Hokoni gave up
on this place.”
took the minion's skepticism in stride. “In my death, I have cut
all ties to the Hokoni faction. By no definition can I be
considered a demon. I choose my own battles and my own
purpose is that?” Blaine asked.
“Donovan, you once told me what you're really after in life.
This is our opportunity to do just that. I've been working these
dwarves for weeks now, even before the Hokoni skipped town.
You're tied to the MST, who thinks going after the Hageshoni is
a good idea. It's ours for the taking.”
what's he talking about?”
a moment, but Donovan didn't miss this one. His face curled a
wicked grin as he said, “World conquest.”
only been back at the base for two days, but the troop greeted
Reggie's return with enough joyful tears that he could be
mistaken for a long-serving war hero. His party that night was
fantastic, especially after Lania taught Crystal how to mix some
of the more popular local drinks. Molly was the only student who
didn't attend, despite persistent coaxing from Kathryn and
about everybody was drowsy and/or hungover at the next day's
meeting. Frank was quite annoyed at all the glassy eyes in the
room, but they were so universal he had nowhere to direct his
anger. Even Molly looked rough, her eyes fixed to the floor and
looking like she wanted to be anywhere but here.
coughed to get everybody's attention. He wasn't convinced that
he succeeded, but after verifying that at least Molly, Meg and
Reggie were looking at him, he began. “Let's focus here, people.
I know it's been rough so far, but we've made a breakthrough
that may finally liberate this world from the Hageshoni.”
looked away from everybody. Frank was too entrenched in his
spiel to notice. “The key to eliminating the Hageshoni is to
eliminate their muscle. Or, even better, take control of it.
We've discovered a way to do that.”
eyes darted to Molly. A few minds wondered why he said 'we'
instead of actually giving credit to the person that had gained
the information. Molly had told everything to Kathryn and Renee,
so by now everybody in the room knew what was happening.
oblivious to this, explained it anyway. The Shrine was guarded,
but not by the vast hordes of orcs that surrounded the area. The
garrison consisted solely of Hageshoni demons, and not in large
numbers that could call attention to what otherwise appeared to
be an unimportant relic. With the requested support troops from
the MST, the guards would be very vulnerable.
battle won't be easy, as I would imagine their strongest magi
are stationed there to make up for their lack of numbers. Still,
with our support, the odds are in our favor. In theory, once we
take control of the shrine, the orcs will respond to our
commands and help us defend it from a possible counterattack.”
raised a hand and Frank acknowledged her. “If we pull in an army
from home and start charging down there, wouldn't they spot us
and send reinforcements?”
nodded. “That's why we are first sending a small team to
secretly set up a teleportation circle. That way they won't
notice a larger army until it's too late. Who all knows how to
Giles and Cammy raised their hands. “That's it?” Frank muttered.
Donovan knows...” Troy grumbled, looking around to see if
Donovan was paying attention. Donovan wasn't even there. “Hey,
where is Donovan?”
didn't even notice he was gone,” Yuki said, looking at Molly.
an eyebrow, Molly replied, “I assumed he stayed behind with
turned to Reggie. He shook his head. “Nope. Wasn't with me.”
cleared his throat, silencing everyone before the speculation
could get too disruptive. “Donovan is away on a secret mission.
I haven't gotten an update from him.”
snickered. “In other words, you wanted him out of your hair.
Don't blame you.”
“Absolutely not. I wish more of you were as passionate about
liberating this world as he is.” Frank was met with several
leaned towards Molly. Under her breath, she asked, “Can he just
send one of us off without telling you?”
replied, “I don't think so, but when it comes to things to be
pissed off about, that's quite low on the list right now.”
continued, “Molly, you and Giles will be responsible for going
in, scouting the temple and setting up a teleportation circle.
Troy and Kathryn will act as support just in case. Meg, you'll
be in charge of communicating with the away team.”
her hand, Kathryn said, “Hold on, you're sending us alone into
orc-infested territory?” She fought off the urge to add, 'with
take a wagon. If you pose as traders, you shouldn't draw much
we do?” Molly asked.
suspicious guards decide to board, we'll stock the wagon with
some low-value fabric or something that will legitimize you as
traders. If it's bandits, and quite honestly you may not be able
to tell the difference, we'll throw in a few necklaces that look
more valuable than they are.” Lania had piles of unwanted
jewelry from ceremonies and random offerings; Frank was more
than happy to clear it out.
we're letting them rob us?” Kathryn asked. “What's the point of
having me and Troy there then?”
for emergencies. Ideally, it would be best if you didn't use any
magic that could draw attention. The Hageshoni won't notice
subtle stuff, but if you have a reputation as orc slayers there
may be a problem.”
were a lot of uneasy eyes facing him, even among those not on
the travel team. He frowned and narrowed his gaze at Molly until
she noticed. She sighed and leaned back in her chair. Then he
did the same to Troy. Troy was taken aback, glanced quickly at
Molly and Kathryn, but then turned back to his father and
right then.” Frank took his sights off Troy and addressed the
whole group. “You four will set out immediately. Meg's on comm.
The rest of you... get ready for the final battle. Meeting
picked up a few papers from his desk and marched out. Nobody
else moved. Frank assumed that was a show of respect to their
general. The troop proved otherwise once he was out the door.
knowing you, Giles,” Morgan grumbled.
the part where he assumed we didn't know any of that,” Reggie
winced. “Um... does anybody actually know how to drive one of
Giles, Kathryn and Troy learned how to drive one of those
wagons. Carmen was proficient and had actually been responsible
for getting Reggie's unit back from Endrell (a logistical
problem Frank had completely overlooked). After a few hours of
training, the away team was proficient as well.
Shrine of Laug was located deep into orc territory, just a few
miles before the Ursu capital on the southern coastline. Frank
estimated it to be a three night journey if everything broke
right. While the desert areas could be avoided, the land was
still wide open with minimal tree cover and scorching weather.
That meant the need for additional rest for their beast and a
difficult task staying on the path. There were few landmarks and
only a map and compass to guide them. Even the night sky was
unhelpful as whoever had designed this world slept through the
lecture about creating mappable star patterns.
The bandits visited as they camped the first night. As per the
plan, they capitulated and, as expected, the orcs only took the
necklaces. The only struggle came with Molly pretending to be
afraid of them. Almost gave up the act right there.
second day was calm, but the third brought the guards. Giles
sniffed them out immediately. While the bandits had swooped in
from out of nowhere, the two guards practically strutted through
the matted grass that Giles hoped was the path. They wore armor
and wielded the same kinds of weapons that the orc guards in
Endrell had used.
up, it's the fuzz,” Giles shouted into the wagon. Once he heard
shuffling inside, he returned to his driving duty, casually
extending a hand to cast a spell. Frank had encouraged subtle
stuff over attack spells. Giles was all about subtle stuff.
time the guards arrived, they were looking at a wrinkled face
and an unkempt beard. All Giles had to do was act like he had
gone through this hundreds of times in his long career as a
where you headed?” One of the orcs grunted. Giles was
momentarily surprised that he could understand the language.
Even with the Lucidrol, Giles couldn't be sure if the orc was
hostile or if that's how they always sounded.
also the part where Giles realized he didn't know the geography
well enough to give a good answer. “Oh... you know... making the
rounds... got some nice fabrics here. Figure I'd sell it off and
see what your womenfolk can do with it.”
the occupants inside the cabin rolled their eyes at his use of
the word 'womenfolk,' the same orc replied, “Needlework ain't
their strong suit, if you get my drift.” He and his partner
started a round of hearty guffaws. Giles had no idea why, but
joined in on what he assumed was a chauvinistic bonding moment.
quickly, the second orc stopped laughing and said, “Seriously
though, let's have a look.”
flinched for a moment, but recovered and gestured to the back.
“Meet you there.”
dashed back into the wagon. Troy and Molly were rolled up in
blankets, barely visible and feigning sleep. Only Kathryn was
upright, sitting by the trunk of faux merchandise. She too had a
wrinkled face and an unkempt beard.
add a layer there, Kathryn, your chest is giving you away,”
was stroking her beard, identical to the one Giles gave himself.
“Yeah, uh, about this... why did you give me a beard?”
it's not a good time to defy traditional workplace gender
Kathryn could clarify, Giles threw the rear doors open. The two
orcs looked inside and found her seated with a blanket covering
her chest. Her feet rested on the trunk. She nodded briefly at
the orcs, faking a baritone. “What's up, Ponch?”
the orcs jumped into the wagon and went straight for the trunk.
He threw it open eagerly and found... exactly what Giles had
said. He frowned and slammed it shut.
wash those before taking them to market,” he grumbled, shuffling
out of the wagon.
then?” Giles asked.
came a long way to sell crap like that. Next time bring
something interesting.” He jumped off and continued down the
road with his partner.
shut the doors and frowned. “Oy. How long until we get there?”
should still be on track for tomorrow night,” Troy said,
climbing out of his blanket.
Other than the interruptions, we're making good time,” Giles
said with a smile. “Troy, can you take the wheel for a few
it Molly's turn? I thought I was taking the overnight.”
only for a few minutes. Just need to stretch and get a snack.
And I'd like to spend it hitting on Molly.”
didn't notice the stares he got, and didn't respond to Kathryn
saying, “That's... awfully forward of you.”
raised his eyebrows. “Molly? Really?” He snickered. “Good luck
glanced at Molly, who was still staring at Giles. Troy snickered
again and left to take the reins.
did exactly what he promised... he stretched and got a snack.
Molly remained dumbfounded. Kathryn scratched her head. “You
know, it's awesome that you've got a thing for her and all, but
you don't have to be quite so... professional about it. People
might start talking.” This was a lie; Kathryn had already been
talking about it to whomever would listen. She'd been doing so
nonstop since volume six.
didn't buy it. “Either you've gotten even more tactless or you
have an ulterior motive.” He didn't acknowledge them, instead
poring over the map while munching on a granola bar.
shook her head. With Giles not responding, she had lost
interest. “Tomorrow night then?”
“Apparently,” Molly grumbled. “Frank hasn't gotten confirmation
that the support troops will be ready, but barring an unforeseen
complication with that, it's all set.”
at least the pros are doing the dirty work, right? And it sounds
like if we pull this off, they shouldn't have much of a
shrugged. “I doubt the Hageshoni are going to let this place go
as easily as Frank thinks. Who's to say they didn't sneak in
machine guns at the same time they shipped in that bomber?
They've already shown they're desperate to hold onto this
world.” She leaned back, looking up at the stained wagon roof.
“I just feel like this is going to end in disaster.”
here we are driving ourselves right into it,” Kathryn added.
“Actually...” Giles crumpled up his granola bar wrapper, took
forever to find a trash bag, then sat down next to Molly and
unfolded the map on her lap. Lowering his voice, he said, “We're
driving away from it.”
receiving nothing but two blank stares, Giles explained, “Let's
assume this battle is going to be more trouble than it's worth
and that our safest option is to avoid it entirely. Let's also
assume that deliberate sabotage is a bad idea since you're
already in hot water with Frank. Therefore, the best case
scenario is that we screw up, and do so in such a way as to
eliminate our element of surprise, preventing another attempt.”
found it difficult to respond, but eventually words came to her.
“That would be delightful, but how do we sabotage the mission
without... you know, sabotaging the mission?”
I took a couple wrong turns on my last shift.” On the map, he
ran a finger along the correct path, then the one they were
apparently on. Ursu had few roads, and the rare intersection
they were bound to come across had equivalents along the right
path. “If the map is right, and if all of us follow our
directions properly from here on out, we should end up at an orc
settlement. We're not getting out of that without magic. That'll
get the Hageshoni's attention and suddenly the jig's up.”
hopefully we get the order to retreat and get called back home,”
that's all right with you. I can get us back on track if need
had such a calm smile, but Molly knew what he was getting at.
Just as Claude said, it was in her nature to complete her
mission no matter how much she disliked it. She wanted to prove
him wrong, and Giles had given her this chance. Even if their
ruse was discovered, Giles was the culprit. Unlike Molly, he
could afford to take a strike.
give it a shot.”
grinned and stroked her beard. “Man, Giles, you sure know how to
hit on Molly.”
intention was to arrive at nightfall, which meant the final night of
sleep had always planned to be cut short, how much to be dictated by
far they believed they still needed to go. Giles maintained the
charade and made the calculations based on where they were supposed
to be. Troy was the unanimous choice for completing this anchor leg.
how little Molly or Kathryn wanted to do with him, going to bed early
wasn't the problem. Getting up was a pain in the ass. He had
abandoned the facade of staying with the time period and dug a
digital watch out of his bag, setting an alarm based on the number of
hours he was planning on sleeping. He had no idea what time it
actually was as the watch had not been updated for Enriel time. It
went off at 9:00 pm. That was definitely wrong.
stumbled over his own bags trying to get out of the wagon, eventually
casting a flight spell to rise above them. As it was the quietest way
to go about it, he flew all the way to the exit.
froze and almost lost his concentration when he heard Kathryn mumble,
“That wake you up too?” It was toward the back and definitely not
meant for him, but he had no trouble making it out. He probably
wasn't supposed to.
reply came from Molly. “No. Can't sleep.”
it really that hard to go through with this?”
I don't understand why, but yes.”
but you shouldn't worry yourself over it. It'll go down the way it'll
go down. Hopefully we won't have anything to do with what happens.”
never that easy.”
It'll help you sleep.”
hovered out of the cabin. However the conversation concluded, he
didn't care. He wanted to forget that tone of reassurance from
Kathryn. It was so soothing, so compassionate, and he had benefited
from it many times. It had also left him. If she was so determined to
sever ties completely, he wasn't going to get nostalgic over a voice
that was now helping Molly.
put it out of his mind and got the wagon moving, sticking a light
ball in a lantern so he could actually see where he was going. If
they were determined to make it to the shrine in one piece, this was
the way to travel: Troy could neither see nor hear any other signs of
life. Once he got over the initial terror of such tremendous silence,
he found it quite calming. So much, in fact, that he extinguished the
light, relying on the plentiful moonlight (never bothering to
question why this world had a moon identical to Earth's). The
darkness helped him see even better.
was supposed to go right at an upcoming junction. That had only been
drilled into his head a few hundred times. Giles had pointed it out
on the map before heading to bed. A left would have taken them
straight into the capital city. Judging by the massive amounts of
billowing smoke he had seen emerging from the capital the day before,
he really wanted to avoid that.
on this clear night, that smoke wasn't disrupting the horizon. Troy
wondered if even the orcs shut the city down at night, but then he
realized he hadn't seen it during the day either. At least not where
it was supposed to be. He found it eventually and, as expected, it
shrouded a pocket of stars low in the horizon. Not as expected, it
was behind him.
left the wagon on auto-pilot (very dangerous: do not try at home) and
tiptoed into the carriage, generating as dim a light ball as he could
manage. Thankfully, Kathryn and Molly had fallen asleep, although
Troy tried to shake off the sight of Molly's head on Kathryn's
shoulder. He found the map sticking out of Giles's bag. He gripped
it, extinguished his light ball, pulled it free and flew back to his
original path was still marked with black pen, but Troy noticed
remnants of pencil marks everywhere. The whole map had been rubbed
extensively with an eraser, to the point where some of the original
ink had faded. Troy tried to figure out where they actually were
based on the location of the capital and the junction that was
forthcoming. He found one route that fit the description. All along
it were tiny holes, each about 0.5 millimeters. The width of a
mechanical pencil tip.
turned left at the junction.
did not reach the shrine by dawn, but Troy got them damn close. With
the map, he was able to get back on track and with the cover of
darkness he skirted the one settlement they had to pass without
waking the locals. They were still probably five miles out before the
sky began to lighten.
wanted to continue on, despite daylight travel this close being
against orders, but stopped the wagon when he heard a stirring behind
him. Molly had a toothbrush in her mouth and extended an empty cup
she mumbled. He filled it with water, which she used to rinse,
spitting it on the grass. She squinted at the nothing surrounded
them. “Where the hell are we?”
a few miles away. Looks like someone took a wrong turn yesterday.”
shook her head. “Well damn.”
got us back on track, but I'm not sure what we're supposed to do
took a deep breath and pulled out her marker. “Pull off to the
side. Way off to the side. I'll cloak us.”
did so. Molly kept a look of disgust the whole time, looking back
into the carriage several times. They were still alone when Molly
activated an invisibility circle around the whole wagon. This was
both a pretty big circle and a pretty big spell. Molly sat down on
the grass, catching her breath.
don't seem that angry,” Troy said, sitting next to her. He furrowed
his eyebrows, watching her reactions closely.
Because I thought this might have gone according to plan?” she
muttered. “I know better.”
poked her head out of the wagon, saw them on the grass and jumped
down. “The hell's going on?”
held a finger up to her lips, then said. “First off, we're in an
invisibility circle, but it's not soundproof. So keep it down.”
did the rest. “Second, somebody took a wrong turn yesterday. Took
me all night to get us back in the right direction, but we're still a
gritted her teeth. “You... dammit!”
not Troy's fault,” Molly said, making careful eye contact with
Kathryn. She was seething when she added, “He fixed the mistake.
Who knows where we could have ended up?”
wasn't seething, but he wasn't happy either. “It may not have been
a mistake. I looked at the map. Looks like someone was plotting
alternate roads taking us away from the shrine. Like they didn't want
us to get there.” He eyed both of them. “Would either of you know
anything about that?”
gave nothing away. Kathryn exploded. “You think any of us want to
get there! You know what's waiting for us?! There's no way it's going
to be as easy as he thinks! Don't act like you did us any favors!
Dammit Troy, so G-”
silencing spell muted the rest. Besides the risk of giving themselves
away, Molly wasn't going to let Kathryn incriminate Giles. Besides,
it didn't matter that Troy couldn't hear her; Kathryn continued her
stared at Kathryn for a while, but as the rant continued, he turned
to Molly. “Did you know about this?”
kept staring at Kathryn. “I'm going to go ahead and say no.”
as surprised as you, Frank, but when I told them about the whole
shrine thing they shut it down pretty quickly.” Frank folded his
arms as he received the news from Uriel. “There's something about
that place they don't want to mess with. If that means conceding,
not conceding anything. We're too close,” Frank insisted.
Frank. And I hope you're not planning on using the students for this.
Capable as they may be, that's well outside the scope of their
assignment and way out of their league. Can't have that now.”
course not.” Frank ended the call and paced around the room. He did
not understand the hesitation over such a massive opportunity.
also knew he didn't need them. He pinched his earlobe.
by. Everything's just about in place.”
a day of staying put, staying quiet and staying completely bored, the
wagon reached the shrine a couple hours after dusk. Their need to
remain undetected trumped Troy's desire to interrogate Giles about
sending them off course. Not only did Troy not want to jeopardize the
mission with in-fighting, he didn't enjoy talking to Giles in
general. The day consisted mostly of an extended poker session. Molly
took everyone's shirts (not literally; Giles was voted down on that).
few hundred yards away from the shrine, under plenty of cover, Giles
created the teleportation circle. When complete, he pinched his
set here,” he reported.
Meg replied from the departure point back at base. “What does Cammy
need to know?”
gave her the information that would link his circle to Cammy's. Meg
wrote it down and teleported outside where the rest of the troop
waited. They all wore light armor and most wielded smiters. Meg tried
to hand the information to Cammy, but Frank intercepted it.
need this for the reinforcements,” he said, studying the content.
“Meg, your handwriting's terrible.”
scoffed. “Why don't we just wait for the reinforcements? Wouldn't
that be safer?”
Have faith in your abilities. They'll be here when we need them.”
snatched back the note and cast a spell to duplicate it. She handed
the copy back to Frank and gave the original to Cammy. “So will
this! Shall we begin?”
the note in hand, Cammy prepared her circle and fired off the spell.
They went from a moonlit hilltop to pitch black. Only a single light
ball from Giles gave them any clue that they were in the woods. Troy
was with him.
I can't see a thing!” Morgan shouted.
shrugged. “You said you wanted cover. I gave you cover.”
is good,” Frank said. “Where's Molly?”
said Giles. “She did have an invisibility circle up all day.”
still in there too. Should we wake her up?” asked Troy.
need,” Frank replied. “Did you get a chance to do any scouting?”
we contacted you as soon as we arrived.”
be the first step then. We need to see what we're up against before
starting our attack. Meg and Crystal- go on foot. Carmen- take the
air. Everybody else needs to be ready at a moment's notice. We've
only got one chance at this, so if they're spotted-”
went silent the moment he heard the rustling in the bushes. It
continued a moment later. “Wild animal?” Renee whispered.
did not see the hand emerge from the bushes. They did see the grass
they were standing on burst into flames. In the screaming and frantic
flying that ensued, only a few of them saw the fireball shoot into
the sky and explode.
Meg! Water!” Frank shouted. He landed outside the fire and worked
to control the fire, keeping it away from both the circle and the
surrounding trees. Candace did the same while Troy and Meg played
the chaos, the Hageshoni demon emerged and lunged at Giles. Renee got
her spell off first, slowing the demon to a crawl and making him an
easy target for Reggie's smiter.
heaved a few breaths and backed away from the fire. “Okay, uh...
got off a flare,” Frank said, still keeping the fire in check.
“That means they know we're here. Remember what I said about being
ready to go?”
do you mean?” Renee asked.
of answering, he barked, “Troy, stay here and help me get this
under control. Giles, get out there and start an anti-teleport spell.
The rest of you- charge.”
you just want us to run out there and start killing stuff?” asked
Meg, cutting off her water spell.
and now! Don't let them organize!”
grinned. “Sweet, let's go!” She ran into the bushes. Renee, Yuki,
Giles, Reggie and his girls weren't nearly as excited, but followed
her through. On the other side, the moon illuminated the battlefield,
and the Shrine of Laug itself.
really was just a relic of a temple. The elements had worn away much
of the stone construction and vines covered half of it. There were
two columns in front of what was presumably the entrance, fallen in
such a way that they were leaning against each other. Whatever had
originally connected them to the structure had dissipated long ago.
If it really was the linchpin to victory, it was a brilliant
disguise: any passing army would be less likely to seize it and more
prone to sign up for a guided tour.
worked both ways, however, as it was not as naturally defensible as a
typical military target. The columns were the entrance's only cover,
otherwise accessible from any direction. The remaining Hageshoni
guards, and by now four had assembled, stood in the open atop the
four of them?” Morgan cried. “Piece of cake!”
we're trying to get inside!” Yuki said, adding, “I think.”
one quick motion from a guard, a giant stone wall surrounded the
entrance. The top remained open, but a second guard stood right next
complicates things,” Renee said.
grimaced. “Yeah, there's only four, but they're probably all as
strong as Sho was.”
continued the charge, however, facing only token air and water
attacks from the guards. Then came the wall of fire that stretched
the entire length of the building. The attackers stopped in time, but
the wall broke into pieces and started chasing them. They were now
scattered, each followed by a raging flame. The continued potshots of
water were suddenly more troublesome, and an air gust knocked Carmen
to the ground. Desperate, she turned on her back and cast an air gust
of her own at the looming fire. It vanished.
and Giles simply outran their flames until Morgan was able to throw
up a wall to block them. Then Morgan started reinforcing the ground
with stone and said, “You on anti-teleport duty? Suppose you could
use a hiding place.”
how considerate,” Giles said, somehow sincere.
Morgan finished, Meg stepped into the makeshift bunker for a breather
herself. “Still, this is turning into quite the headache, isn't
long after Frank and Troy got the fire under control, Frank told Troy
to fetch Molly from the wagon. Once his son was gone, Frank calmly
fetched the notes on the circle, pinched his ear, and delivered them.
He stepped away from the circle as it started to glow.
looked around. “Is this right?”
rest of the circle was filled with armored dwarves, all standing at
attention. Frank nodded. “Yes... yes it is.”
one more brigade behind us,” said Dimsgrud, at the front of the
circle. “What's the target?”
shrine straight ahead, and the demons occupying it. Now march!”
dwarves of Tulas were never all that impressed with the concept of
magic. They like the satisfaction of doing a job with physical tools.
Bare hands worked even better. When the Hageshoni seized control of
Enriel, the force of their magic alone intimidated the other groups
and led to a hostile reception. The dwarves saw them as nothing more
than the new guys in charge. That's why they were open to being trade
partners and why the Hageshoni could never bully them into an
instead of trying to use magic, Tulas was on the forefront of
blocking it. They had a natural resistance, and centuries of R&D
had led to armor that made them damn near immune to it. This wasn't a
secret; they had once offered to sell early prototypes to the
Hageshoni (rejected as they also proved to diminish the wearer's
casting ability). While the Hageshoni were aware this existed, they
may not have realized just how dangerous this made the dwarves should
they ever come to a disagreement.
the dwarves didn't shift the momentum of the battle instantly.
Dwarves didn't march that fast. Their presence, however, gave the
Hageshoni something else to think about and allowed the MST units a
chance to breathe. Carmen spread the word on how to take care of the
heat-seeking flames, which Candace and Meg put to good use. Renee did
one better, volleying the fire back at the demons atop the shrine.
They sent it right back, but it died against Renee's shield.
proved to be the popular option. Cammy and Mindy followed suit and
the non-Weavers got behind them. Yuki took the opportunity to pass
out potions to anyone who had gotten singed. For a moment, it looked
like the offensive had stabilized, but then came the earthquake.
once, a violent rattle threw everybody to the ground, save for the
well-protected Giles. Everybody lost concentration, everybody dropped
spells, and suddenly the potshot fireballs were connecting. Renee
caught one with her bare hand and collapsed with a scream. Carmen
intercepted a second shot targeted at her. Crystal did one better and
threw a mirror in front of them. Suddenly the shots were missing
wide. Yuki arrived and forced a potion down Renee's throat. Another
quake shook everybody all over again.
included the dwarves, who were otherwise indifferent to the other
attacks. They would march forward, fall over, get up and keep going.
It was steady, but it was taking them forever to get anywhere. At the
very least they commanded the demons' attention, and that may have
been the only thing keeping the troop from being overwhelmed.
them, Frank was preparing for the second wave of dwarven
reinforcements. Bryce was doing most of the work, of course.
what's next?” Troy asked. Molly and Kathryn followed behind him.
winced at a blast on the other side of the brush. “Sounds pretty
explodey over there. Everybody okay?”
stared at the bushes. He couldn't actually see anything on the other
side, but it sounded like the Hageshoni were prepared enough for an
attack. Prolonging it would be bad.
wait here for the rest of the dwarves,” he ordered. “I need to
see what's going on out there. I'll let you know what I want them to
do.” He turned to Troy and Molly. “You two come with me.”
didn't give them a chance to comment. He did not charge right onto
the battlefield either. He straddled the line of bushes for about
fifty yards, then squeezed through to survey the action. The troop
was weathering the storm, but barely. The dwarves were making modest
enough for Frank. First he told Molly, “Tell Kathryn to send the
dwarves forward. Same as before.” As Molly did, he pinched his own
ear. “Reggie, can I get some explosions on the right side of the
had no objection to making loud noises, but Troy asked, “What's
except us is a diversion. Get ready to run when you hear them.”
took a minute for Reggie to get everything set up, but he did not
disappoint. On the opposite side of the shrine, a series of fireworks
launched, reaching up to the roof of the shrine before exploding in
bright colors. Frank, Troy and Molly were sprinting as the first one
does he get time to make those?” Molly mumbled.
was no way they would be able to reach the stone wall surrounding the
entrance before the fireworks stopped and the Hageshoni guards turned
back around. As Reggie's last burst subsided, Frank added one of his
own- a towering lob of a fireball that didn't catch any enemy eyes
until it was too late to stop. It landed on the center of the roof
and drew everyone's attention. One tried to pinpoint where it had
originated, but by the time that he did, Frank, Troy and Molly were
long gone, hiding at the foot of the stone wall.
didn't have to give any commands for Troy and Molly to start working
on the wall. Molly carefully traced a circle along the surface while
Troy blasted the soon-to-be circle's interior with water. Frank flew
higher to see if any of the guards had noticed.
was getting hit with plenty of splashes, but she ignored the
inconvenience. “Well I know one thing,” Troy said. “At least
you didn't sabotage the map.”
didn't.” Molly finished her circle and pulled Troy back. “But I
let Giles do it.” With her finger less than an inch from the wall,
she executed her trigger. The circled section of stone flew forward
and landed inside.
head darted as he tried to reconcile Molly's actions with her
confessions. “But if you were trying to...” He pointed at the
perfect hole she had created to grant them access to the shrine.
shrugged. “We're here now. No sense running.”
didn't have a chance to respond before a Hageshoni guard fell flat on
his face behind him. Frank descended rapidly and stabbed him with his
smiter. “Someone upstairs probably noticed that. We'll have to move
fast. Troy, can you stand guard?”
Troy saluted his father. “Should I plug this hole once we're in?”
work. Let's go, Molly.”
what's the timetable on this?” Kathryn asked, checking the part of
her wrist where her watch would be. Not that she even wore a watch
takes a bit to organize a... hold on...” Bryce stopped himself,
pinched his ear, and listened to instructions. “Stand back.”
did as the second group arrived. Her neutral face fell into one of
disgust when she saw the dwarves and they looked exactly how she had
much for breaking stereotypes here, huh?”
once you get to know them, they're not nearly as Hobbit-y,” Bryce
worry about it, Tony.” Bryce turned to Kathryn. “What did Frank
uh...” Kathryn pointed at the bushes. “Charge ahead and take out
the demons. I'm guessing your friends will be in front of you.”
confident one, she is,” one of the dwarves mocked. “She sounds
like you, Tony!”
Tony shouted. “Let's do this!” No one else cried out, but they
all marched past Kathryn into the breach.
she watched them depart, hoping they weren't heading to their doom,
she relaxed and leaned on her staff. “Tony?” she mumbled.
she heard the voice from behind and almost lost her balance. She
recognized it immediately and turned around. As she did, Kendrick
pulled the staff away from her and she fell to the ground.
looked it over, shaking his head. “I'm sorry, I forgot your name.”
He smirked. “Guess you could say I'm having a Donovan moment.”
popped back onto her feet and stared him down. “You! What are you
doing here?” She saw Donovan standing behind Kendrick. He held a
hand up towards Bryce, telling him not to interfere.
who's side are you on?” she asked Kendrick.
responded with a vicious strike to her face with her own staff. The
infused magical power of the staff knocked her out immediately.
don't feel like answering that,” Kendrick said. “But I will say
that you'll serve our cause nicely.”