The eyes of Tamas hung wide open with surprise, staring down through Vedicus' empty sockets to an unseen oblivion beyond. Putrid black puss dripped in profuse glops and foul-smelling streamlets onto Vedicus' face and shoulders. Tamas hadn't known the full extent of Vedicus duplicitous thoughts. His masters hadn't known either just how far afield their weapon had wandered, how far beyond their control he'd already grown. Tamas had arrived to investigate- to intimidate Vedicus with threats of mere disapproval, as if it would correct what they thought to be a minor error and scare him back in line.
Part of Vedicus had remained here and now. He felt his rotted sinew jerk and flex, he felt himself biting his lower lip with jagged shattered teeth and the dozens of tiny rips and tears they caused, he felt himself forcing the thick wedge of the Dysuhlian conjured sword farther upwards into Tamas' gut, twisting it now and then. He sliced and crushed and sawed at the anatomically insane conglomeration of sinews and organs up in there, and then he started building up energy within the sword's capacitance constructs as if preparing to shoot at an enemy far afield, but he refused the weapon its impulse to fire. Instead it grew more and more energetic, the flesh of Tamas began to sizzle and cook, and then burn, and finally peel away like an onion, each layer vaporizing into the air and blowing as ash on the wind, until his former masters' tool was banished back to their dark refuge.
Tamas hadn't seen it coming. Vedicus had walked calmly up to him and driven his empty hand against his chest, conjuring the sword as he did so, forming it half inside of him. Tamas had had no chance to struggle, but there had been a struggle of another type. His masters had acted through him, their minds racing like lightning at this sign of complete and total betrayal to their rule. They'd swarmed like shadows through the underlying realm which bound him and them, passing ghostlike along the ethereal pathways up and into his mind and being and what some might charitably refer to as his soul: that which made him function as a thinking being, the conduit through which he accessed the magical energies of the world to wield what his masters themselves could not. They'd tried to destroy him, but his will proved far to powerful. He'd driven them off, clawed his way back to reality, and driven Tamas off as well.
He could feel them watching him now. They made their home beneath the mountains, but they were everywhere, literally underfoot in all the forests and all the grasslands and all the cities of Feila. They were literally everywhere where the temperature stayed above freezing, and he could feel them watching him now, watching from everywhere.
"Vedicus?" One of the collies was trying to grab his attention, perhaps having noticed his dazed state. Or perhaps he'd noticed him skewering Tamas and exploding him from within. That may have been it. "Vedicu-"
"Get the lines moving," he blurted, hefting what little remained of Tamas off himself to crumple into the ground.
The collie looked confused, "the lines… which lines?"
"All of them!" Vedicus snapped. He felt… different, somehow; invigorated. He'd once thought his masters were the sole source of his power, that going against them would end him, but now that he had informed them of his treachery beyond a shadow of a doubt, he only felt more powerful. His reservoir of energy had been bottomless before, but now there were no heights he could not reach!
As his forces moved in for the main assault, he magically disabled the command and control constructs of three hundred Kent golems and held them back- necessary raw materials for his final surprise.
Waves of Dysuhlian Assault Golems, Kent golems, Rennes golems, Fey-powered golems, thousands of skeletal warriors, dozens of skeletal abominations, shambling reanimated corpses from Stettin and elsewhere, the remaining dragon-killers flapping bat-like in the sky, hundreds of fetch, dozens of white-robed probability-twisting fetch, dozens of unmounted Purple Fetch, handfuls of white-robed probability-twisting Purple Fetch- the treeline exploded outward, literally. Too much might passed through too-narrow gaps and simply tore the smaller members of the forest apart.
Cataclysmic footfalls seemed to shake the whole of the world. The old growth trees at the forest's newest boundary began to bend outward, slightly at first, then more so and more so until the sound of dense wood snapping and ripping cascaded like thunder through the open spaces beyond. Finally the great sentinels gave up. Centuries of growth and life fought to the end and failed catastrophically, wood splinters flying like needles, ricocheting off wardstone hides or striking and shattering and felling skeletal infantry, and the great trees toppled to the earth. Enormous glowing eyes cast their unfeeling purple gaze out over the battlefield. A sabaton the size of a small dwelling landed midway along the length of a felled giant and crushed without qualm any remaining dignity it possessed, carrying the first of the four Notrol Supergolem out of the forest. The rest were not far behind; as one line they moved into the clearing.
The golem was down, but the unfamiliar lemur became agitated when he swung his wardstone lance to another nearby target. The smaller fur kept chortling out sounds neither he nor the parts of his indoctrinated mind responsible for command sequencing could understand, and making motions towards the felled machine. When Brutus fired again at it, the lemur seemed pleased and excited, so he fired again, and then again.
The lemur wanted him to focus on the disabled war machine, he realized, and to keep shooting it, so he did. Again and again and again, pulses of thaumatic energy screamed down range, projectiles in their own right, to impact the Kent golem. Even as new threats in the sky presented themselves and a withering barrage from the woods answered the defenders' fire, he continued. The wardstone of the fallen golem started glowing red and then orange and then white-hot. Fissures like cracks in fine glass, incredibly thin yet long and snakelike, spread in fits and bursts from the center of the golem's chest and cast out fleeting fingers of brilliant light.
Finally the machine erupted with hellfire and exploded outward, lashing it's nearest brethren with fragments large and small. A dozen of the nearest Kenth golems were cut down as one and dozens more damaged.
Seeing now the lemur's plan, Brutus turned his attention to another downed golem.
What had been a merely cumbersome advance by the forward line of Kent golems had become an agonizingly slow morass as they encountered one devious defense after another. The constant changes in terrain were the hardest for them to bare. They'd been designed to assume a static battlefield. Their primitive command and control constructs did not properly respond to sudden changes in the ground around them. They toppled over or into each other, they were funneled into grinding, sparking, shrieking metal masses, sudden hills tipped them backward or forwards or confused their senses and caused abrupt changes in direction from misinterpreted terrain and landmark cues. They were doing exceptionally poorly, but they were only the initial waves, and their newer brethren were rapidly moving up beside and among them.
The Dysuhlian Assault Golems climbed the hillocks, spanned the ditches and sudden pits, and endured the quaking ground beneath them. An army of golems caused significant quaking all its own, so they were designed to compensate for this. The closer they got, the more they pressed their attack. Lances fired from the hip found their targets more often than not. Individual furs were swatted from the wall like flies. Scaffolds and platforms crumpled, tore lose, and heeled over backwards.
Nessus found himself running and dodging more than fighting. Bolts of energy filled the sky above his head as the heavier turret golems in the rear sent destruction hurtling into the town proper. To one side, empty buildings collapsed and caught fire. To the other, the smell of caustic fluids and gasses burned his nostrils. If such alchemical mines had existed in the distant past, his people surely would have deployed them against furs of flesh and blood. He would find time later to be horrified by the prospects. He found himself shouting orders often too, filling in the command gaps where experienced veterans of the University's older wars were few and far between either from limited supply or battlefield injury.
He also found himself jumping over holes. The wall was crumbling. The defenses were failing. And yet he kept coming across mages with nothing better to do than scream at the golems, or shout insults at them, or sing at them. He couldn't so much hear what they were doing as hear the not-sound surrounding them and protecting everyone's ears. There was magic at work here, another new kind of weapon.
It seemed even less effective than the alchemical mines- wardstone was exceptionally non-reactive in the presence of corrosive agents, but it had been worth a shot, and it did slow some of them down and looked to be slowly corroding others. The sound seemed completely useless.
People screamed. A fire elemental pierced the innermost wards and sowed horrific death by fire among some, slower death by charred lungs among others. Magic was brought to bear, and eventually the living flame blew out, but his ears were filled as they had been more and more often with the sounds of cries for help, or of fading furs calling to their mothers, and the pitiable shouts for healers who would only reach a small fraction of them in time. The carnage tore at his soul, but he allowed the weak parts of himself to go quiet as he'd learned to do long ago. These scenes would not break him. He would fight, or die, with the rest.
One of the furs he thought of as noise-casters grew upset, and then angry, and yowled at the battlefield, shaking both fists in the air, fur stained with tears, eyes angry slits.
A peculiar sound reached Nessus ears. He imagined a catastrophic failure of the levitating plate system would sound similar: lots of clattering plates, or shattering pewter, or shattering glass? Out beyond the wall the nearest golems' eyes resonated, cracked, and exploded. The tiny pinpricks of red light were not just for show. Those kent golems abruptly all listed one way or another, colliding with each other. The Dysuhlian Assault Golems proved hardier, but not by much. They seemed to recoil from the attack, their lances firing erratically up and over the walls, but they pressed forward. A few new golems he'd never seen before had eyes like dinner plates, and when they cracked, the machines reacted as if in pain, retreating, shielding their faces.
Those new golems worried him. They were faster and stronger, and while they had weaker defenses they moved and behaved like intelligent agents, issuing their own commands among themselves, dodging and weaving.
The noise-caster collapsed with exhaustion, but the rest were picking up on the same frequency of attack, and Nessus was just now in the process of yowling triumphantly when a brilliant light nearly blinded him. He yelped as a glowing-hot shard of wardstone cut a notch in his ear, and he instinctively dove for cover just before the blast wave rolled over them. He shouted ancient obscenities and grabbed the sleeve of a nearby fighting male, "where the hell did that come from!?"
The male didn't respond. A wardstone fragment had missed Nessus' head and clipped the top of the other fur's skull off. Nessus fought down vomit.
Desdemona had also bore witness to the explosion, and she'd had a much better view of it from her perch atop the farthest-forward supergolem in the line: it had been a Kent golem, but it hadn't seemed to be under direct attack. It had slowed suddenly as it reached a flat span of ground, fissures had formed in neat arcs up and down it's sides and- she couldn't see from there, but presumably- across the front of it's breastplate. Finally the golem had exploded violently, but only from it's backside: for the tiniest fraction of a second a spherical sun glowed just ahead of it, and then the rest of the explosion burst forward and hit the town wall.
A sudden flash signified another- this one a 3rd generation Assault golem- boiling up, and then another. Meanwhile dozens of golems at a time were having their eyes blown out and sent in all kinds of wild directions, and constant abuse of earth magics and strange alchemy were turning the whole of the killing field into a horrific sea of mud and caustic fluids concealing holes and ditches. Below her, the Notrol Supergolem couldn't help but pulverize the skeleton warriors who saw nothing wrong with running underfoot.
Magical messages came in garbled and difficult to interpret through the local interference, but she got the gist of it: her kinsmen were growing worried. How were they to deal with threats they could not see- invisible weapons they were liable to walk into at any moment which would rend their golems apart!? "Hold fast here," she sent back, "bring all the purple fetch ahead and await the word." She looked to the male standing to her front left, his hands poised over the command surface. The machine would follow transmitted orders, but some things had to be done in person, for security purposes, "prepare the weapon for firing." She placed a hand on the shoulder of a male to her right and pointed out the specific segment of wall to target.
The three of them shifted their stance as the golem's head upon which their command center was built tilted downward and turned slightly to place the target within the machine's baleful glare. The golem's muted chorus of mechanical clicks and hums and whirs picked up in urgency and pitch below them as it's innards shuffled and reconfigured. Just below and ahead, a rapid series of metallic clanks signaled the decoupling of the golem's expansive crystalline eyes from it's helm plating. Four rails around each eye slid forwards, followed by the eyes' foremost and middle lenses which shifted back and forth in peculiar fashion like a pair of spyglasses coming to focus. A sudden cacophony of deep thunks sounded from behind as doors set into it's back fell open and ten enormous wardstone limbs like segmented spinal columns torn from impossibly large creatures unfolded from the openings, looking at once like both a pair of gigantic hands opening up and the unfurling of skeletal wings. The supergolem's shield fluoresced brightly and flowed forward into twin whirlpools leading down behind it's eyes to make way for these huge structures which finally spread fully two hundred feet from tip to tip.
Incredible power built up beneath her feet. The blue-black wardstone radiators spreading like enormous wings behind them heated until dull-red.
Desdemona put her fingers in her ears, as did the others. She could still perceive the ethereal messaging going on between them and their kinsmen, and she made sure to remind them of the other precautions they would have to take when the time finally came, like exhaling fully and closing eyes.
First, she signaled the Purple Fetch to unleash their own lesser hell.
Antinom loosed beam after beam from his spear into the oncoming enemy. The tempo of the siege had abruptly increased. Wardstone and skeletal bone formed a tsunami of black and white crashing ever onward toward the belabored walls. Over four hundred golems were down, mostly Kent golems and some of the ancient variety, but the rat found himself aiming further downward each minute as the rest closed the remaining space to the wall. The mauler golems already loped to and fro just beneath his feet, looking for points of entry. The skeletons were melting by the hundreds as they passed over the alchemical wasteland these University mages had made of the land, but their surviving thousands would soon arrive as well. They were too numerous to target, and the golems remained the greater threat. If the wall held, the maulers and skeletons would be toothless.
Those forlorn titans which had marched ever closer with impunity were coming to a stop. He could see a great deal of activity around them and underfoot- horrific, unnatural corpses of rats forever burning beneath purple flames dragged themselves about below and on the bodies of the greater golems themselves.
Abruptly, a flawless line of purple bisected the world and filled his ears with the sound of exploding dirt and wood and brick and the screams of the not-quite-slain. It abated only to be replaced by ten more. They abated only to be replaced by fifty staggered one after another, slicing slowly across the entire quadrant of the wall, tracing lines of molten dirt into it's outer face like finely flowing calligraphy.
As they swept past he dove for cover through a storm of debris- a blizzard of ruination so thick he could see hardly five feet in front of his nose.
Purple death cut its path along the walls and most held after a fashion, albeit turning red and black with blood and burned flesh, but the span beneath the archancellor's platform had been too weakened by it's collapse. It exploded inward, toppling a few dozen feet of wall in either direction in it's death throes.
The prowling quadrupedal mauler golem's did not take long to find it. One after another after another leapt through seeking soft flesh for wardstone fangs. Outside, part of the skeleton advance began funneling towards it and would soon begin pouring through.
Genius or not- not, in this case- a fur never expects to be the one to take a hit in these ranged situations. Brutus never did see which of the hundreds of newly arrived ranged golems took him as a target. The bolt of red as wide as a furs chest blasted him off center in the stomach and exploded, tearing his footing out from under him and sending him tumbling off his perch, still-charged lance landing nearby.
He rolled to a slow stop and was motionless for a few seconds before finally carefully turning over and pushing up onto his hands and knees, blood dribbling from the wardstone "jaw" of his helm and leeching from the seams near his midriff.
The dragon-killer's attack may have failed against the kangaroo rat, but the machine would soon have company. It's fellow flyers were sweeping back southward, away from the fallen segment of wall. They could not effectively target one fur fighting a friendly target without killing or destroying both, so they would concentrate where the wall still stood.
Roughly speaking, this was above the kangaroo rat's head.
They paid no heed to the bubbles of magic from the nearby hybrid; they did not interpret them to be solid obstacles. The near-constant manipulation of the forces of chance and probability by the nearest white-robed fetch were preventing accidental collisions up to this point.
Purple beams sliced right through wards and walls to boil furs trying to take cover in what they'd thought to be safe places. No matter where Nessus' gaze landed, he saw death and rising panic, and now a call was coming from up the wall.
The wall was breached.
Brave furs with swords and shields and melee magic sprinted past towards the source of the alert.
Nessus looked to the south. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps he'd intended to check the state of the wall in that direction- to check how the defense was going. He saw most of the Dysuhlians there, the fifty real rats fished from a sea of cowards, a few hundred feet off. And then he didn't. The world ended. One of the enormous golems far afield lit up, and the sky split open, and he was thrown bodily through the air with all the others standing this close- a mere hundred feet away- and through the pain, and the motion, he saw entire segments of wall tens of feet across flying through the air atop an ever-expanding cloud of brilliant white fire, flying like… like playthings, tossed by an angry world throwing a sudden tantrum. And he saw countless furs, and the remains of furs, and pieces of furs, like specks, thrown skyward, high skyward, to rain down dead and broken.
He landed hard on somebody's roof, his head struck hard timbers, and consciousness grew fleeting. As darkness descended he could hear the sounds of brittle footfalls, thousands, approaching, the sounds of nearby weapons being drawn by fleshy hands, the shouts, and warnings, garbled orders lost to him, and for what felt like the first time in his life he made a plea, deluded and dazed as it was, entreating a divine power to let him survive and fight again before the day was gone- not to curse him to die a useless death at the hands of a house.
Blackness took him, but perhaps his plea had been heard, for he continued to breathe.
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The ferx ducked suddenly as another attack sent a cobblestone zinging past his ear. Now was not the time to give a lesson in confidence. "Yes, that will do." As he tried to extend his own magical control to the bubbles, he was pleasantly surprised as how easy they were for another magician to manipulate. They might have been designed for the purpose, and Naia had come up with technique herself. *This girl shows promise.* He thought, as he took two of the spheres.
The energy in the "bubbles" was non-elemental, but could be used for any. It was but a moment's work that aligned them to the element of air, and then Tel sent them skyward. The paths of the bubbles slowly diverged as they ascended, stopping in the air, tense upon their magical tethers like the jaws of a set trap.
His prey approached, a dragon killer doing another sweep of the non-combatants. As the leathery-winged golem approached, Tel pulled the bubbles together in one sharp motion, aiming one for each of the wings. He kept the energy in bubbles compact around his target, circling it vertically around the machine to send the wings into an uncontrolled spin. That accomplished, he pulled all the energy out of the bubbles into a downdraft to bring the Dragon Killer crashing down into a street, one of the few unoccupied ones.
Even though he'd been the cause of the explosion, it still knocked him off his feet. All in the streets surrounding, all the furs in and out of the limited shelter of the buildings fell and reeled from the shockwave, and remained down to avoid the debris, mostly the cobbles from the street, glowing red from the heat of the blast.
The Archancellor was no sooner situated on the ground than he began roaring orders. "Clear the debris, clear the debris! Keep the routes to the wall stations open!" After bullying a few of the shocked healers, including Feres, to get to work on clearing the way for the beleaguered suppliers, the wolftaur secured the massive crossbow across his back, and began climbing up the dirt wall.
His six limps facilitated his climb as much as his bulk obstructed it, and he reached the wall in a decent amount of time. He unlimbered his bow, shooting bolts as the next line of golems wrapped around the entire wall to surround the town, completely besieging it.
There was along the a growing sense of the whole world coming to a crisis, that here would be decided the fate of the world. But it was an awful parody of the Day of Judgment, where upon the throne sat not God but another.
Insensitive to this was the half-mad lemur, who fought with valor but carried an attitude of a schoolyard brawl into the apocalypse. There was, perhaps, some excuse for his buoyancy; the timely intervention of Brutus had brought his original idea of a chain reaction of golem explosions to fruition, with quite palpable results... among the front lines, which were beginning to look pretty thin. The already-visible advance of the main body of Vedicus' force, however, prevented his enthusiasm from spreading. But at least it did not diminish in him; he continued to fire his bolts and stand his ground.
Caraennyn stood with him, helping to hold the line. He was no healer, but at least he could lay out the fallen for those who were. He could carry water, and what was most important, fortify earthenworks. The shaking of the very ground, through both the golems and the larger defensive enchantments, threatened to collapse the station if no one worked at it. Skills and magic once used to shape the University Octangle into playing fields were now used for a more serious conflict.
The battle raged around these three, the unlikely anchors of their station. Perhaps their contribution was not large, compared to the vast wards and experiments the University was deploying, but it was certainly essential. The bards were able to stay just long enough to find the right frequency...
The cobbles had cooled enough not to burn right through the soles of Tel's boots. He could still feel the heat, but he could no longer afford to wait. "Come on Naia, I'm going to need you to cover me!" The pair moved into the street, towards the wreck of the dragon-killer.
Leaving Naia to watch his back, the ferx knelt, trying to concentrate on the broken construct before him. He had to check first to make sure it wouldn't suddenly come to life again; even though it couldn't get airborne, it might still cause trouble. *There's still energy coursing through it, right. Better bring out the coin, then.* Reaching into a pocket, Tel brought a gold coin out of the silk lining, feeling the familiar tendrils of his Majide jinx start to gather. He sent them interweaving into the construct, exercising as much constraint as he could upon them. He wasn't trying to disassemble this golem, just keep it under control.
The ferx was now able to construct a clear mental picture of all the components, and how they fit together... or supposed to fit together. *Hello, a psionic control receptor. I suppose that's for a manual override... it seems to work on the same basic frequency as all the flyers.* He supposed that would be for squad tactics, but it also gave him an idea.
He reached into his pocket again, drawing out a pair of headbands he'd once used to enter the dreams of a clairvoyant bard. They facilitated mental connections, and they would be useful here. Wrapping one around his own head, he wrapped the other around the closest material component that he could find to the psionic receptor unit. *If use this to take control of one of the other flyers, I can maybe shoot the rest down.* Reaching out mentally, in conjunction with his Majide, he attempted to control another dragon-killer remotely...
There came simultaneously from Matteo and Caraennyn a yell of triumph and a scream of terror, respectively. The first was elated with the triumph of the sound manipulators, and the other dodging the debris of the explosions. Despite the cat's best efforts, bit seemed the wall station was not going to hold for long, especially after being pelted with chunks of wardstone.
"Hah, now that's the stuff!" The lemur yelled over the confusion. "The footsoldiers can't advance over that field, and the golem lines are cracking!"
"Don't get cocky!" The cat yelled back. "Those undead are still coming, and they've got more golems in reserve- what's that?"
Caraennyn was the first to notice the group of fetch gathering around one golem which was hanging back; the destruction of the tree cover having exposed the enemy's rear line to the line of sight. He wasn't sure what exactly was happening there, but he knew it was bad news. Even from here, he could sense the gathering power as the golem began to transform.
"Get down!" He screamed as he grabbed hold of the back of Matteo's robes, sending them both tumbling down the wall, just as the barrage of purple fey blasted the walls.
The Archancellor had been thrown bodily back from the wall when it had imploded inward, and though he had landed alive and conscious, he knew that the battle would soon be over for him. He had landed on his legs, and had felt them break in the impact. In front of him opened the breach in the wall, through which the maulers and the skeletons were advancing, and he could not retreat.
But he had was not quite finished yet. "Retreat!" He called to the healers around him. "Pull able bodies to the breach to cover the fall-back to the University. Now, don't mind me, do it!"
He himself remained. He had bolts in his quiver, and power in his magical reserves, and while he had those he would fight. The approaching Maulers, to him were only targets who'd chosen to expose their weak points. The skeletons were but fragile things to be blasted away from his home. It was not for nothing that he, among many powerful wizards, had ascended to the top chair of the Unseen University. Bolt after bolt lanced home, blazing blades of light magic cut through the lines of the undead, and for almost half a minute, the lame wolftaur was almost a substitute for the missing chunk of wall.
Then came the explosion, an attack of enormous power that turned heaven and earth white... and Archancellor Ridcully knew no more.
The downward tumble had probably saved Matteo and Caraennyn's lives, and after getting up, the cat saw Brutus, lying with a shattered head upon the ground. There was no time for shock to give way to anything else, for now the Archancellor had sounded the retreat, and the students were hustled back to the University. By the time the explosion came, they were halfway back, and the burst only knocked them forward.
One good thing about the blast, it had obliterated all of Vedicus' ground forces that had already reached the wall, buying time for the retreat...
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He started to lift rocks and logs and whatever covered the road and carelessly threw it out of the way. If it ever came to a retreat - this would have to be kept empty. He saw the golems and skeletons trampling over one another earlier and shivered - the last thing that would need to happen was to have people trip and stepped on to death - or worse, left behind for the constantly pressing mob to finish off. As the pile of debris to the side of the path grew larger between his and the others' efforts, Feres' thoughts cascaded like a waterfall, rushing quickly and hurriedly. Among them was this sense of helplessness that gripped him.
He saw the wolftaur firing bolts, mages launching spells, setting traps of magic and chemical origin and changing the earth, all against an army - an army, he had to emphasize - of golems and undead. The thought lingered and prompted him to briefly halt as it clenched onto his heart heavily, dragging it down. His mind trailed on, traveling back to his family's usual escapades of exploring ruins. Facing golems were not a laughing matter, neither was a group of undead kept in their unlife state by powerful magics. It took effort to bring down one golem, but this army of creatures most monstrous of different kinds and powers, summoned and controlled by a being of unbelievable power almost made this entire war seem futile - if not that it made Feres seem so helpless. What could he do?
Galvan's arms were a whirling frenzy of spells of ice, lightning and fire. It was the most he could do, and to be fair a war was something he was not accustomed to. When one travels with a small tight knit group, the idea of 'every man for himself' buzzed over his head, and pangs of sorrow came by every time a flying piece of debris or gush of flame created a frightening cry of pain and misery just next to him - it also brought the cat's attention to how much chaos reigned in this cacophony of madness. His ears had trouble picking up every detail, and everything seemed out of control.
He growled, channeling that frustration into a fireball aimed over the wall and towards the horde amassing below. It almost brought a satisfied smirk as he watched bits of bone and rock fly, driving him further.
That was when the explosion erupted, a large one among few, nearly knocking him off his feet. He watched it, cradling a sphere of ice in his paws with a mix of horror and glee - being a magician of more destructive magics the display was pleasing, but what it consisted of eventually turned it into a frightened look, splaying his ears. "Stars..." His face turned into one of rage and with bared fangs, he threw the sphere, continuing his magical onslaught snarling.
The walls collapsed and broke, the purple magic force of death proving too much for the strained platform. Feres was comfortably in the middle when this happened, but a piece of the foundation flew over his head, and his ears picked up a sickening crunch and a cry cut short. He turned around and gasped, seeing the splattered remains of a ferret's head splashed on the floor. He gagged, turning away. He saw the wall where the Archancellor stood firing bolts crumble, throwing the wolftaur back but he landed on his feet with an audible crack. Feres ran towards him, but the order to retreat was sounded. The lynx shook his head, a whimpering mew coming from him as he took a few, helpless steps back, ears pressed flat against his head and tail curled inward to his legs. His ears, turned to the gaping hole that left their position exposed could already pick up the slavering sounds of creatures ready to pour in ravenously seeking their hides.
He could not take it anymore; he ran, following the order of retreat - not even recognizing the other half of the order and decided on leaving it to someone else. He beckoned to every person nearby to follow, whether it was out of empathy that their fate would be sealed should they stay or if perhaps his survival instinct dictated that the more people he more likely someone else would be attacked. Sensing the panic and lack of clearsightedness that overwhelmed him, Feres took out a Rawson herb from a sack, strapped tightly onto his waist. He bit into it, the bitter taste ignored completely as he only cared for its effect to enforce a bit of calm. He gasped and breathed heavily, watching others amass and begin their retreat. With one last look to the wolftaur making his last stand with broken legs, he took off from the collapsed post and never looked back.
They came near the university, entering through one way or another - it was just a blur to Feres at this point, who was now wandering past homes and houses and separated from the others who ran with him. His thoughts began to slow and he could start hearing and thinking again, thankful that the herb's effects started to kick in. His panic subsided slightly but his heart continued to pound and blood roared in his ears. He looked to the south wall, then his ears picked up a wailing from another side of town. He turned for one minute in that direction, wondering if the walls had fallen, and started to walk towards it. But then, the air burst with magic - the world seemed to break as another massive explosion rocked to the south, knocking Feres inward through a window and crashing through table and furniture. He lay on his back, groaning.
This was all too much for him to bear. From the remains of the table that his body uncomfortably lay, he could hear frightened screaming, snarls of anguish and roars of bloodlust among the crackling of flames and grinding of stone. He never felt so helpless - this was war. This wasn't between nations - this was much more beyond that. Was this where his story would end? To be trampled on, crushed by the destructive forces of Vedicus, praying for a swift death instead of those horrifying possibilities that clamored for his life just outside. Years into the future - if there was one - would an adventurer or archaeologist like he wander by the ruins of the university, perhaps guarded by skeletons? Would Feres' body remain here? Or worse, brought into the state of unliving by necromancy to remain for all eternity till he was cut down? Ruins of forgotten wars were among the many places that his family had explored in their efforts of unearthing history. And now, he was very well within reach of becoming part of that for some treasure hunter to come by in another era, maybe even procuring Feres' cherished sword.
What of his own family? Will they know what happened to him? Will they be the one inquiring an adventurer to go to this hellish warzone to find him?
There was so much happening around him - and stories still left open. Somewhere out there was Duke Batym, elsewhere was his adoptive father. Perhaps his real father as well. He wanted to see those stories till they finished. This one was no different. He could not die - he would not leave it to this gruesome end, not while there was so much he could garner from life, and tales to be part of and tales to be read.
He clenched his paws, heaving himself for what seemed like the hundredth time off the floor. He groaned, feeling his body protest. It was weak from the explosion and was impacted by the calming herb. He looked up through the roof, and barely saw a face, and a paw laying limp. He stood atop a bench and looked at the body, his nose quickly telling him the identity of the fur before he got a clear look of his face. It was Nessus.
He saw the faintest of the rise and fall of Nessus' chest, and gasped. Nessus had been an enigma among all the other strange things in the university in the lynx's short stay. Feres had decided that his own story wasn't going to end, and saw it right that Nessus' should not either - for plenty more reasons that the lynx did not have the time to go further on. His healer's instincts starting up again, he hopped off the bench and found a step ladder to get himself to the hole in the roof. Once above, he gently put his arms around Nessus, checking for any reaction to his grip for any signs of broken bones or injuries. If he deemed it safe, he'd carry him back down to the limited comfort of the damaged home.
He felt as battered and broken as this horrific dreamscape around him, a place which he'd been forced to endure with ever greater frequency. Nevertheless he could stand, after a fashion- more like crouch doubled-over while miraculously staying on his feet. He wanted to scream at this… this thing from his nightmares, but whatever his lungs drew in, it only stole his breath away. There was no real air here.
He'd started calling it the Monster for lack of any satisfactory descriptor. It was a thing from children's dreams. He'd recognized it at last some time ago. All Dysuhlian rats came to this place when they were very young and their minds had yet to be clouded by knowledge and civility and social consciousness. It was formless now, the shadow moving throughout the gullies and crevices, but it sounded closer- it made a sound like knives. "Nessus," countless squeals became a roar, "the eighth is in danger."
Nessus managed to rasp a few pitiful words, an entreaty to leave him to die and a plea for sanity and a curse all rolled into one. He dropped to his knees, sucking hard at this airless stuff around him.
"Telemain is in danger," the monster ignored his hatred and sorrow. The knives grew louder and sharper. "The darkness-song beckons."
The inky blackness began to clear; a thing which was both formless yet knowable as an enormous maw reared back, opening, thousands of long, curved white needles sliding apart. "Nessus, the darkness-song beckons," the thing did not speak- countless tiny black shadows flowing like rivers behind it did- "Nessus, bring Telemain home."
And in an instant it was on him, and his whole world became of teeth.
Nessus woke as Feres was pulling him off the roof; his eyes flew wide open and he gagged and choked and coughed on a scream, flecking the lynx with specks of blood. He thrashed around before realizing where he was, that he was, somehow, still alive- that he was, somehow, conscious. Part of him cursed whatever force had seen fit to deny him his forever-rest. It was probably the same part of him feeling the pain from the broken left leg and arm and the cracked ribs on that side of his body.
He drifted in and out of consciousness as he was hoisted down into the home, babbling nonsensically, mostly in Dysuhlian. It was the language of his youth, his first life. Speaking Gawainian had become second nature to him, but where there was a second there was always invariably a first- an even more innate, fundamental quantity.
Something flickered in the corner. His dazed eyes saw a shape from his nightmares, and he recoiled, trying to shield his eyes and mind from it, almost tripping the lynx in the process. But the tiny flowing shadow was only a little feral rat sitting in the corner, silently chewing on a morsel, featureless pink eyes looking in two directions, seemingly oblivious to the destruction all around it.
"Feline," he managed a haggard rasp of a whisper, voice catching on coagulated blood. He did not immediately recognize the lynx, and the fact that it wasn't undead seemed of far greater importance than a mere name, "Telemain! Where is Telemain! We need… we need to find him… now!" How to explain the… raw information- the unadulterated *knowing* blasted into his brain- that the ferx was somehow the pivot around which all the recent events- Vidicus, Tamas, the Dysuhlians, the nightmares- were turning. It was as if he was a key, and whatever he opened, it dwelled beneath the Black Mountains.
He didn't try. Instead he reached about with futility for some kind of crutch, his one good arm feeling like it was made of gelatin, "we have to move!"
He did not get far. He simply lacked the strength. He didn't want to believe it, but the battle was well and truly over for him. As he lay there sucking at the air, his mind drifted to earlier times- to his arrival at the Unseen University. The Octariat had chosen to send Telemain out into the world to face Vedicus wherever he showed himself, and Nessus had advised against it. Something he'd said there looped again and again through his thoughts and dragged him into deeper sorrow: *Vedicus could have killed Telemain without significant effort. But he sees him as a potential resource more than a threat. Once that changes, once diplomacy and manipulation cease to work to his advantage, my brother will not reveal himself with lengthy diatribes and posturing, he will simply strike.*
Flapping leathery wings dropped death and destruction on the heads of the retreating defenders again and again, the Dragon Killers tracing sweeping arcs across the sky and down the lengths of packed roads and choke points. A new command had overridden their selective targeting of noncombatants. Lightning pierced the crowds at random, hitting what and whom it may. Incendiary fireballs also landed among feilans, setting their fur ablaze.
The flying machines were not surviving this assault unscathed. The mages were covering their retreat better than any equivalent force from Dysuyhl would have. But the airborne golems never lingered over the streets for long, always swooping in low over the concealment of rooftops to loose chaos and then bank off to either side, out of harms way.
New orders were coming in, but the transmissions were sloppy and incoherent, and only three of the dragon killers responded to them. They beat at the air to gain altitude and fell into a passive circular pattern, waiting for instructions. The instructions came, but they were not formatted in a sensible pattern the flyers could decipher and understand. Two of the machines fell back to their previous routine. The third lingered a short while longer, high in the sky, until, quite abruptly, it's command sequencer was finally successful at sorting the bizarre and discordant instructions into a meaningful routine.
Releasing a rapid series of high-and-low-pitched thrums, it folded its wings and dropped towards the other Dragon Killers, diverting it's thaumatic reserves from the incendiary fireballs to pure lightning. It brought it's brethren into it's sights.
That dragon killer had not been alone up there in the sky, alone in it's own command sequencers and mental constructs and infernal machinations. It had been carrying a second passenger, so to speak- it had been serving as his eyes and ears, and he did not miss the touch of the new mind acting through it.
Across the battlefield from the falling town and soon-to-be-besieged University, what had once been the domain of green growth and life had become a maelstrom of debris in the most literal sense of the word. An enormous whirlwind whose shape was not dissimilar to the typhoons known to blow in from time to time reached from horizon to horizon. It's outermost tendrils did not quite reach the base of the walls; from the muddy toxic battlefield they plucked shards of wardstone, bits of the armor plating of destroyed golems, fragments of their weapons, internal components- anything with Vedicus' taint upon it. Closer to the center of the rat's army, entire inactive Kent golems left the ground. The golems and the broken pieces of their brethren exploded apart as if of their own will as they reached the center of the vortex and fell upon the largest of the towed flatbed carts.
Vedicus stood near the center of the storm, directing it's winds toward his ends. He gave the wind shape by controlling its source, but he did not generate it. He lacked the affinity for wind to put on such a display, but he'd been around for a long, long time, he'd dispatched many great, even legendary enemies, and he'd buried none of them- not permanently. Never permanently.
His throat caught on ash and smoke, and he coughed. For the first time in ages, he was drawing breath with his lungs. But his mind was elsewhere- literally- and this vital revelation was completely lost to him. Instead his perceptions mingled with Telemain's for the tiniest fraction of a second above the town, within the Dragon Killer.
A moment of stunned fury passed by. Keeping his hind paws dug firmly into the ground, he twisted around to glare back towards the town, towards his ultimate target. The eye wall of the storm whirling just before him was pierced first by an enormous, long, skeletal snout studded with neat rows of fangs, then the rest of a head adorned with gracefully back-swept bone-white horns, and finally a long serpentine neck- a skeletal spine and skull accreting armor plating and great curved spikes and blades and incongruous-yet-streamlined and graceful-yet-deadly metallic elements. Wings not-the-least-metaphorical opened to either side of it as it slowly reared back on hind claws. White bone was rapidly adorned and fortified by black wardstone armor. Wing membranes burst into existence as iridescent red films of necromantic magic lacking any real substance.
Vedicus snarled towards his unseen adversary. At the same moment, the monstrosity behind him unleashed a roar of a wholly more draconic nature than any golem could achieve. It was a powerful sound not by virtue of volume alone; it was a sharp, distinct, unrelenting, authoritative sound which sliced through the rest like a wardstone blade through soft flesh. Beneath the call's corruption and threat, it was also a lamentation, an almost mournful cry aimed skyward. What had this once-great leader become? What had it been reduced to? What was it about to do?
"Aggar," a familiar voice called from elsewhere in the rubble. The elderly rat opened his eyes to a sight obscured by the very same rubble. He could hear again the sounds of battle. When he pushed the wood plank off himself he saw that people were fleeing the town perimeter. A call for an orderly retreat was passing down the wall, or at least along what remained of it. Again the familiar voice called to him, so he got up to look for it's source, picking around dead bodies burnt by the blast or thrown and dropped from great heights. He'd been lucky: he'd merely been tossed like a child's toy.
He caught sight of Aelius pinned against the side of what had once been a storefront, partially concealed beneath the thick timber holding him there. Aggar expected some snide remark from the younger rat, but instead he got a question: "remember at the Acadamy? What you used to say to your students all the time?"
Aggar rushed to the rat's side, tried to shift the timber, couldn't do so. "The Acadamy?" The question had come out of nowhere. He'd been an instructor at the Acadamy at one point. So had Aelius. "What about the Acadamy?"
"You used to say something," Aelius baited him, half a malicious smirk on his face. Blood traced a line of red from the corner of his mouth. He didn't leave Aggar searching for long; he indicated the ruin around them, the timber over his chest, and did an admirably snide impression of it, " 'I'm getting too old for this.' "
The elder rat pressed his palms against the younger rat's exposed shoulder and chest and tried what little healing magic he knew, but all he got for it was feedback in his hands like ice water, spreading, spreading. He managed an uncertain laugh, "yes, yes I remember. Well, 'old man', you'll have time to rest soon. First we have to get you free of this mess."
Aelius' gave a rasp of a mocking laugh. His smirk spread into a caustic smile. And then it began to fade. His eyes turned to peer past the older rat's shoulders, grim recognition creasing his brow, but it too was soon gone. Those hateful eyes remained open. The gaze was soft now, almost regretful, but it was completely unmoving.
Aggar felt inconceivably ancient in that moment. His weapon fell from his hand, and he sank heavily to his knees, uninjured yet utterly defeated.
Fatigue. Antinom thought the word with every weary step he took as he and the other rats tried to fall back. The enemy forces towards the northern quadrants of the wall had been incinerated in the same incredible hellfire which had finally felled it. Most of the Kent golems towards this end were also down, however the 3rd Gen Assault Golems and the Rennes golems and many mauler golems had survived more or less intact down here, and they were pushing into Academia right on the heels of his fellow Dysuhlians. They were all of them tired- they were many of them old and unused to such strenuous action- but they couldn't afford to slow down, not now.
The statesman took an abrupt right turn and dashed into a still-sheltered alleyway for whatever few gasping moments he could afford to rest, and he bumped right into Priscus. The outwardly-emotionless rat had the advantage of fewer years, but even he was clearly worn out. "I heard a story," he huffed, "when the ferret Telemain came home- a few homecomings ago- the townsfolk were cleaning copper nails off the streets. It had rained nails the night before." He leaned heavily against the wall, expression one of exhaustion, but absolutely nothing else, "why can't it rain temporal mines, right now?"
The world just across from the alley flashed purple- the old warehouse there exploded. Antinom and Priscus threw themselves flat and shielded their heads from falling debris. They heard rats running behind them, and then screaming, and then nothing. They would soon have to lurch out into that death-trap of a road as well and make a run for it. Antinom took this chance to add his own tall tale to the mix, "I have it on good authority, that the mages who came before them planted great defensive wards in the shape of trees all across the land. Or perhaps they really were trees. In any case-" he paused as another explosion tore another piece of Academia asunder, "-they moved like giant fighters, with fighting stances and so forth. We didn't they plant any here? Why not hundreds, thousands?"
Another raucous noise reached them, but this was no explosion; they were thunderous footfalls, and softer, lighter, sharper ones. Lots of them. The rats could rest no longer. They pushed to their feet and ran as fast as their feet could take them. Antinom could hear something coming up fast behind him, and he knew that, whatever they did now, either he or Priscus would suddenly be gone forever. And then the footfalls stopped, replaced by a new sound- a new kind of… explosion wasn't the right word. Rats ahead of them were shouting and pointing at something in the air behind. Antinom refused the urge to look until both he and Priscus reached the safety of the next alleyway.
He turned and peaked out, and then he jumped out and shouted, "Jyya!" He skittered forwards, back towards death and destruction and shouted again, but the young kangaroo rat seemed lost to the world. All around her, explosions ripped through the streets and tore through golems. She landed out of sight as dozens of surviving rats ran or hobbled or carried each other out of a concealed hiding place further afield. "What happened," Antinom demanded urgently as they arrived, "what is she doing!? We must-" *must what? Go after her?* That would be suicide- it was a choice the young woman seemed to have made for herself.
"I've never seen magic like that," another elderly fighter supported by two other coughed a little blood, "the purple magic is one thing, but what the little ratess was doing, flying through the sky. Literally… rending apart the golems around her…"
They were interrupted by further explosions from the north. Vedicus was pushing his forces back up to the former defensive perimeter there. Rennes golems- clever and creative- were digging leftover mines from the earth and tossing them out over the roads of the town, out over the avenues of the University's retreat.
"We-" Antinom was cut short by a new sound. He'd heard something like it before, long, long ago. So had many of the others. They'd been in the ranks when Dysuhl faced off with the Dragon of the West and it's forces. The intense, sorrowful roar kept going and going, so the rat motioned with his hands for the group to disperse into smaller groups and fall back towards the University walls. Those walls were clearly visible through the dust and smoke and debris. Red thaumatic pulse weapons carried by the ancient Dysuhlian golems had a greater range than those purple-wielding corpses. Energy bolts careened overhead to explode brightly against the University's wards, indistinct flashes in the gloom.
"-an see over the top of the buildings here," Priscus was shouting, and only now audible that the dragon-call had relented and the softer sound of great wings flapping had taken it's place. "Those four siege-golems can see over the top of everything," he repeated, "will the University's 'impenetrable' wards stand against such power?"
Antinom had no answer.
The air became unsettled as a great shape moved through it. The rats in various stages of crossing the exposed plaza in their groups all threw themselves to the ground as the sky was obscured by black wardstone scales and glowing red wings so close to the rooftops as to cause the few remaining windows to shatter. It was a blur, enduring for seconds due to it's size, in spite of it's speed, and then the sky returned. The spade-shaped tip of the dragon's tail dipped low and tore the center out of a blacksmith's shop.
Vedicus peered at the town below him. Dust and debris obscured some of it, but he couldn't see any of it anyway. His perceptions could not pierce the errant magic of the land any longer, this close to the University. It was strong enough to smell, even stronger than the stench of the lesser beings and their small works, now in ruins. The sky was little better than the ground. Dragon Killers were hunting each other, and the air was permeated by spell fire. His new… mount… was large enough to take hits on a continuous basis, but it shrugged them off; they were like little flecks of fire and ice and water and earth and light striking against it's armor, or passing unimpeded through it's wing membranes.
He did not mind being blind up here. He could smell and taste and practically reach out and touch his quarry with his very mind. As he had in Sheringham, he would be led to Telemain like a shark to blood. And so it was.
He passed a few roads and had the dragon destroy them and anything fleeing along them with a burst of wind and lightning emitted from it's mouth as was the way with dragons. The combatants rarely saw it coming, so they were unfortunately spared much in the way of terror and grief. When they did see it coming, there was precious little they could do about it. The Dragon cut down whatever small wards they could muster at the last minute.
Telemain was somewhere in front of him now, somewhere up ahead beyond the undead dragon's horned crown. He focused in on it- and a sudden squeal startled him. It rose in pitch and became a continuous wail, and soon the sound become almost sweet to his ears, alluring even. He could see red tendrils reaching out from his robes, growing brighter with every passing second in consort with the rising scream. He stuck a hand into his robes and pulled the black sphere from it's resting place. He held it high, high above his head, watching with rapt fascination as it's radiant beams swept all around, collapsed back into it, and then exploded as a single resolute ray, passing harmlessly through his head and the back of the dragon, through all the debris, through the tops of houses and markets and primitive workshops, through furs, across the town, resolute, absolute, immutable and unblockable, from one end of Academia to the other, until finally, it found a figure 'distant. Vedicus' magical perceptions rode this search-light through the troublesome wexlarian energy fields to their focus, and he saw… an unremarkable feline, middle-aged, not a local, and almost certainly unaffiliated with the University. The feline's arms were a whirling frenzy of spell-casting as he sent ice and fire careening into advancing mauler golems and skeletons to cover the retreat of his fellow fighters.
The Demiurge… the soul… was this it? …No, it wasn't, but this cat had been close to it. This cat knew where it was.
But this cat was not Telemain. Vedicus was here for Telemain, to put an end to him once and for all. Now, as he was closing in on his mark, this… hateful black device had chosen to show him a greatest desire of his past life as his masters' plaything. Recover the Demiurge. It had been their will for the longest time. It had been his deepest desire as well. He could find it and use it to to kill them, AND to crush the University. He would become as a true god in this world, this time. But it was not Telemain. He was here for Telemain.
Suddenly Vedicus saw the ferret, or a memory of him, corrupted by his mounting insanity into a dancing, laughing caricature. The not-quite-ferret pranced around on a grassy hill. Behind him lay a forest of Telemains pretending to be trees. The great Telemain-tree of Narcus stood before him, arms outstretched like branches. The Telemain Telemain, the normal dancing one, was saying something to him even as the mental images of him twitched and faded and undulated between the original memory and the laughing thing plaguing his perceptions and nightmares. "I mentioned before that the ward was biderectional. You ought to have figured out by now that means whatever is under here wants to get out, and the original casters didn't like that. I would estimate it has been working to break this as long as you have. Nine centuries of even slow progress will get you quite far," the laughing dancing ferret mocked. The night sky behind him filled with clouds shaped like Telemain's face, "It's powerful, whatever it is. And possesses enough sentience to hate. And what it hates..." Telemain gestured at him, "is you." And, in a bizarre mixture of reality and memory, the Demiurge's soul-detector laughed in his hand, and pointed him away from the ferret. It did hate him.
Vedicus snarled, dashed the memory from his mind's eye, and very nearly threw the detector out into empty space to fall some random place. But he resisted, and restrained himself, and he stuck the offensive thing back beneath his cloak. Telemain would not escape that easily. He had been plotting against him since the beginning, but he would not escape. He would die by Vedicus' hands, and then Vedicus would find this feline, and the feline would die by his hands too, but only after he told him where to find the soul he needed. It would all finally fall into place.
"How soon until we can fire again," Desdemona demanded sharply. Aside from bleeding eyes noses and ears, she and the others had come through the first volley less the worse for wear.
"Not soon," the targeting collie replied shortly. He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at the red-hot radiator 'wings.' "We need to finish exhausting our waste heat first, or the mechanism will overload."
"Get us moving then," she snapped, "take is into the town and line us up with the University. I want to put an end to the hated institution myself." There were three other Notrol Supergolems on the field, and they were all of them further ahead then she. They all had the same capability, but she wanted to be first. She was Vedicus' right hand. It was her right.
"We aren't moving," the third collie dashed her hopes, but plaintively, "we just can't do it, not until we've finished venting!"
She growled angrily, putting her hands on her head and turning about on the command deck, "fine, damn you all to hell, then tell Notrol 2 to do it! Now! Before I change my mind!- before I take it out on YOU."
They complied, relaying the order for her. She could have done it herself, but she was in command here, and she'd given an order, and whether the order made sense was none of their concern. It was an order. The order was received: after a few minutes, the second of the supergolems across town towards the west stopped and began unfurling and unfolding just as Desdemona's had. Purple streaks whipped in violent circles about that golem's eyes jast as they had around hers. Radiators unfurled like skeletal wings, just as they had behind hers. Energy began accumulating. Desdemona abruptly skipped to the front of the command deck and leaned over intently to watch: they'd had to close their eyes when they'd done it, this time they would see the whole show.
A rising crescendo filled the air.
The dragon abruptly entered a field of luminous spheres of pure magical energy. All along it's length, by virtue of sheer size and blinding speed, it was subjected to continuous impacts. The magical orbs exploded across it's flanks. They took chunks out of that armor wherever they struck and sent wardstone raining down into the streets, but the creature sustained the damage.
Vedicus was not a dragon. He turned and threw himself back against his mount's back, and as he did so, his perceptions pierced the clouds which blinded him. A flash of a face- eyes in black fur, a ferret- swept by with the street below. "Turn!" The rat twisted and screeched, "turn back!"
Ethereal wings beat hard at the air. The malevolent conglomeration of draconic might and Dysuhlian malice climbed up and away and began banking back around.
"Now?" The collie asked nervously as energy permeated the air around them.
The commander growled, "no, not now! We need more power!" He himself was pacing impatiently. Now that he'd learned that he would have the unexpected honor of taking the first shot at the University proper, he was eager to get it done himself. However they had to be patient. They had no idea how much of an impact those unseen wards would bear, but he was determined to dish out a mightier blow than the wall-strike. "Change targets," he barked abruptly.
"But… their inner wall, and the retreating warriors-"
"We will cast their walls AND their warriors to hell, but not now, leave that to the army. Adjust altitude bearings! Line us up with one of their academic buildings!"
The targeting collie's hands flew across the smooth command surface tracing elegant lines of glowing red command script. The platform lurched beneath their feet and then tilted ever so slightly back. "Which building?"
Which one indeed. "One full of people… any one of them! Any one save the one with those spheres on top. We can obliterate their workshops later."
The air around them crackled and popped fitfully. The view down the front of the massive machine was blindingly bright. "Now?" The targeter prodded, but the commander said nothing. The supergolem shuddered beneath them. The winglike radiators glowed red hot, and then orange hot, and then yellow hot, until the radiant energy started setting small blazes at the golem's feet and singeing the fur of it's three-collie crew. "N-Now?" He prodded again, shouting this time over the rising din. Small purple smirks rippling across the hull and grew to fitful violent arcs, and those grew to great writhing streaks leaping between abdomen and arms and legs and radiators and ground. "Commander!"
Nessus gasped. The world beyond the ruined walls of the house turned white. Deep shadows mingled with intense white light in garish shapes along the far wall, the lot of them moving rapidly across the domicile as the beam outshone the ash-choked sun and swept across the sky, overhead, to the west. The rat could not bear to look at it. He closed his eyes and turned his head away, towards the interior wall.
The distant light reached lengthwise into the alleyway to throw Amelia's razor-edged shadow long against the cobblestones. She ignored it, continuing to run hurriedly through the cross-streets and alleys, avoiding main roads and retreating furs, zigzagging ever closer to the University.
There were ways into the University. As a student, she knew of them. In fact, a part of her glimpsed a memory through all the corruption of another student helping her escape for the last time. Vedicus had kept her presence a secret, and she now understood why. If they did not know of her betrayal, would she not be treated as a student by the wards? She drew her robe tighter around her. She didn't want just anybody to catch sight of her new arm and armor. She would show the Dean first.
Another shadow, quite large, fell behind her feet: the enormous, predatory, intelligent 4th Generation Assault Golem followed closely. It cast a shadow, but that was all. Amelia was not a Dysuhlian; she'd learned some of the light-alligned magics of the University, and now she used them to fold the machine's aura tightly around itself and shield it from plain sight. Only a shadow followed on her heals. It could not enter the University, but perhaps Amelia could lead the Dean out.
Antinom and the others threw themselves flat for what felt like the hundredth time that day when the sky overhead split open. The statesman glanced up only to have a bar burnt across his retinas. It was not just light, up there. The very air was dematerializing into fundamental magics. The invisible shockwave it cast off obliterated everything beneath it. All around his head, the world exploded. It was passing them by- Antinom was able to guess it's target half a heartbeat later, but there was nothing he could do.
They'd tried to kill her, but she had survived. She'd stood alone before, long ago; she would not leave others to suffer the same fate, not so long as she drew breath. A brilliant light shone in the sky and illuminated her path through tortured woods, but she was behind enemy lines now. She would have to sneak inside. She had to.
For a moment, as they swept away, Vedicus and the vast flyer were lost in the smoke-filled expanse of the sky. Night had yet to come- it was still day- so the weapon could not turn night into day. Instead it burned like a long sun- it burned any eyes which fell upon it. It cut through the smoke and ash. Wardstone was black and blue, but it reflected well. The dragon was a study in facets and faces, angular scales, rigid armor plates, and thorns, and each individual face was either bright white with reflected light on one side or pitch black on the other, the in-between a realm of twinkling light and darkness.
The view would have been perfect for the ferret: the dragon was swooping down almost on top of him. One wing of black wardstone shone with red ethereal folds and membranes. The other was washed out and bright white- a brightly shining skeleton, a wing in white knight's armor, devoid of any apparent flight membrane at all. A skeleton. It was an illusion. The dragon was in control.
No, the rat now firmly anchored between the dragon's backswept horns atop it's head was in control. Those horns and the rest of the dragon's head were both harsh white and deep black like the rest, scales glinting in the sharp, raking light, but they also shone a brilliant reflected red. As the dragon plunged, Vedicus gathered all the cataclysmic power and unnatural forces under his control into a sphere of shimmering red hell in his left hand.
The dragon roared. Black talons sliced forward and down towards the street. It's roar became a bellow. Wind and lightning and raw power burst from it's lungs. Black and red bile exploded like lava from it's mouth in a long directed stream. Vedicus drew his hand back in preparation, red lightning streaking everywhere around him- between his body and the dragon- elsewhere to pierce the sky. Tiny arcs coursed between every shattered bit of teeth in his mouth, between the top and bottom of his hood, between the folds in his stained, stitched, mutilated cloak. Power filled the air, and, as all the destructive forces came together, he directed all he had accumulated forward. The dragon's wind carried the corruption's ethereal bile contained within a brilliant double helix of Vedicus' necromantic power, and fell like a torrent towards the fur who'd started it all long before Narcus- The fur who's birth had set in motion the end of the world.
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Still, the aura-binding of the golems to a student had been a nasty shock; all of the work put into the outer wards obviated in less than a half-minute. *And who was it, that he got his claws in?* That was the question that burned in the Dean's heart as she watched the battle from the parapet of one of the University towers.
She could see the full progress of the retreat below, for all the good that did. The reserves kept back on the walls did their best with covering fire, to keep it from being a full rout, but that could not do much against the attacks from the sky that the dragonkillers-
Had been pelting the defenders with. The badger smiled slightly at the sight of the flying golems now no attacking each other. "One of my students made good, anyhow." She murmured. She did not look for Telemain, as it was quite impossible to make out individual figures in the distance, smoke, and confusion.
Looking beyond the town, she could suddenly see the maelstrom starting to gather in the northwest. It was impossible to tell what it meant at this distance, but she knew that it was not simply random. "Heyo the Northwest Wall!" Dr. Martin fairly bellowed out from the tower. "Something big is coming from there!"
A dark, slimy shock. Telemain probably would have used more words to describe the sensation of briefly touching minds with Vedicus, without substantially adding to the phrase. It had only been for a split second, and Tel could have sworn the monster had been just as surprised as he was.
*Should... have... known. Who else could the manual control have been for?* The ferx was staggered, and had dropped to one knee, clutching at the arm of his apprentice. It was a rather undignified and vulnerable position, but he simply couldn't spare any attention to care. As it was, the distraction had caused him to lose control of two of the three leather-winged golems he'd managed to hijack, leaving him the one.
Taking a deep breath, Telemain brought the last flyer completely under his control, and set it to attacking the others. Since they worked on automatic protocols, now that the conscious control of Vedicus was on other matters, they immediately switched to a defensive mode, to fend off this new attacker. However, the crossed control signals caused the dragonkillers move to erratically, not as a tactical squad, making for much friendly fire and confusion in the air.
In a few minutes, Tel could pull his own suborned golem out of the fray; the dragonkillers were now fully occupied in shooting each other down. For a brief second, he actually smiled at something going right!
Then he heard the roar.
The retreating combatants had started to reach the University gates at last, though not in any numerous fashion. There was no way for the Dean to tell where most of the casualties had hailed from, not that it mattered much to them. Dead was dead, the ultimate equality and final rest, beyond the judgment and distinguishment of mortals. *Barring necromancy, at any rate.* Came the morbid thought to the badger's head.
The skeletal troops the University rampant guards could handle, students though they mostly were. Golems... were currently being ripped apart and shredded by Jyya. Dr. Martin's emotions were mixed between relief, fear for her student, and a kind of helplessness. *She's beyond reach... she can't hold much longer! She's not trained for that much power, she'll either die or go completely mad!*
The Dean, one the other hand, felt all too powerless. She commanded the best view, and not incidentally, the last front of the defense. At this point, however, she had to rely upon her delegates; the porters to direct the refugees, the Warden to look after the magical defenses, and Valencii-
Then came the roar, which honed straight into the subconscious and screamed "Dragon!" There was a brief hope in the badger's breast that Vesperocci had returned, but the sight of Vedicus rising on the armored, undead skeleton was enough to quench that. Everyone's breath had caught at its appearance, everyone who could see it...
"Is this infernally complicated idea of yours actually going to work?"
"Isn't it usually me that asks that question?" Aldous Dench looked down his muzzle at Valencii, his fellow Octariat member. Both of them were back from the lines, but not out of the battle. Most of the wards were bound to structures within the University, and when the defenses ran at full power, most of that energy had to be routed through the High-Energy Magic Building.
Though most would have called the weasel warden personally insufferable, he was conscientious enough in his duty, and while he was knave enough to steal, he was not too proud to copy. One of the biggest problems with all that many spells being tangled in one place, he reasoned, was the risk of them getting entangled and working at cross-purposes. He'd been spending the preparatory fortnight before the battle researching methods of getting them to work harmoniously, when he'd suddenly remembered one of the things that Telemain had reported of his first encounter.
*The ward... gets the necessary energy from absorbing the magic of all who try to abolish it... it accommodated all the kinds that Vedicus had hired... Eureka!* The solution was, of course, to ensure that the entanglement of the wards reinforced each other, by accommodating them into one amalgamated system!
Then had followed a sleepless week of sorting out all of the wards that the University had accumulated over its 1,000 years, which were as variegated as to include an actual kitchen sink among the spell-anchors (that particular one was for the pantry). Adding to that the burden of reconstructing the actual spell that had guarded the soul-finder, and carrying it out, it was not much of a surprise that Dench had snagged the assistance of Valencii to put it into place, and was only just now putting on the finishing touches.
"There isn't any reason to assume it shouldn't, my dear sir." The weasel was answering his colleague's question. "After all, the original successfully repelled Vedicus for centuries. And mark! The beauty of it," he gestured towards the sigils he'd carved into the floor now glowing and humming with power, "Is that it has the capacity to absorb whatever force the enemy brings against it, like the original, but on a much larger scale. That will free more power to our offensive capabilities, which, I believe, are your department."
The mouse bowed in recognition, and not a little in admiration. "Thank you. But the question remains, what were the practical results of your tests?"
Aldous Dench found the repetition of the question infuriating. "There hasn't been any time, you damn pedant, no more than your own little toys!"
"Peace! Let us not argue now. If you have it working, look over it. I have other things to take care of..."
Telemain was still viewing the world through the eyes of the Dragonkiller, and this was proving a strain. He was unused to seeing through the mechanical "senses" onboard a golem, and the attention this commanded left his body on the ground more or less at Naia's mercy and protection.
Without a doubt, though, his biggest threat was from the air. *Mein Gotz! Just when I thought I'd plumbed the depths of his nastiness...* More in an effort to buy time than anything else, he threw the remaining bubbles of energy at the dragon. The armor disintegrated, strewing fragments along Vedicus' flight path, but the Dragon still flew on. Still, the rat had to double back for another pass, and Tel had formed some sort of a plan by then.
*Elementary, really. He has a dragon, I have a dragonkiller.* Admittedly, he didn't know how well it would work when the dragon in question was already dead.
The effect of Vedicus swooping in was rather lost on the ferx, since he viewed it from the perspective of the flying machine he was now bringing to bear. Tel brought it in from behind and above, since the "pilot's seat" had the least protection from that angle. Vedicus, focused on his prey, would not have been likely to notice.
The ferx could feel Naia tighten her grip around him. She could see Vedicus bearing down at them, at any rate. He could feel energy from her, a ward? Even with her power, it might not be enough, the only defense would be to strike now, and he did.
Telemain pulled the golem into a sharp dive towards Vedicus, pulling out his control at the last second, along with the last tendrils of his Majide, destabilizing it to the point where it would explode on impact.
The shock of coming to his own senses left him off-balance of a second; leaving him entirely at the hands of his apprentice as she faced his enemy...
The Dean saw the supergolem take aim as it prepared to fire. "Brace!" She called to the defenders, more or less in vain. If the wards failed now, there was nothing they could do. *It's all in Dench's paws now, God help us.* The Badger had just enough time to double her dread, seeing that the target was a residential building, before the blinding light blazed.
The fey energy slammed into the amalgamated wards, which might have been seen to recoil at the blow, like a canvas tent when a boulder strikes it. The background hum of the magical defenses crescendoed to a screaming roar as it sought to take in all of the energy. The fey quickly saturated the dome over the University, spiraling around the perimeter and, when no other outlet presented itself, it swirled down towards the great brass balls of the HEM building.
There was another burst of light as the energy touched down; the balls were doing their job, venting the excess energy into the sky above. The power was, however, so overwhelming that one of the balls themselves were also launched into the air, disintegrating en route into tiny pieces, before bursting into a shower of brass bits which rained over the town.
Valencii had felt the shock, even buried in the depths of the building. The force of it had sent him tumbling behind a table, and it was a little while before he shakily crawled back out. "Aldous...?" The mouse called out hesitantly.
The weasel had still been connected to the wards as they tried to grasp control of the energy. They probably would not have been able to, if he hadn't been able to provide a conscious guide; fey was the one magic type he hadn't known enough about to prepare before hand. Time had stretched to a subjective eternity of pain, as his mind pulled the barbed-wire puppet strings of the spell, wrangling this new type of force into line. The form was difficult enough to adjust to, but the sheer amount of it was just about impossible. He could not control it all, and had no time to scream as it all crashed down on him.
And then... the pain stopped. He felt cool, calm, filled with a kind of flux, like water rushing through the bend of a river. The weasel still stood in the center of the room, but the figure was no longer Aldous Dench. His eyes glowed purple, suffused all over with the light of the Purple Flame. He was now only a vassal of the Fey.
Above, the Dean had fallen through the cracked roof to the floor below. The blast had whisked her robe and staff away to parts unknown, and left her flat on her back, in no mood or ability to get up just now. Everything felt bruised, and something was probably broken somewhere. She wouldn't be directing the fight for a while, at any rate.
The building aimed at was at least partially intact, though the top half was smashed to pieces where the wards had buckled in. There hadn't been many in the top floors, but of the few who were, it was unlikely that any body would be found, intact, anyway. Some... bits might be found among the bricks.
Above, the wards thrummed with increased power, settling back in a new order. Dench had been, to the very end, a good plagarist. The wards stood, ready and all the better prepared for the next strike.
Very little of this all was apparent to the pair of figures still winding crazily among the streets of the town, if indeed the rapidly growing pile of rubble still deserved the name. Perhaps it was the madness of the guiding lemur that let them keep ahead of the dragonkiller's attacks, perhaps the dogged persistence of the cat, but Matteo and Caraennyn had reached the University wall.
"Are we.... near the... entrance?" Caraennyn breathed out between great gulping gasps of air. The smoke hadn't reached this part so badly yet.
"Not the main one." The lemur still spoke quickly. "Just hope no one plugged the bolt holes- Hullo!" For now he'd caught sight of the hooded and robed figure now headed for the secret entrance in question. It looked like another student, so the pair approached openly.
"Ay, had the same idea too-" The lemur's voice ended in a choke. Just before it blinded him, the blaze of light hitting the ward had illuminated the face, one which he had never forgotten. The face of the one whom he'd maimed.
Caraennyn saw, too. But what he saw was not the face of a victim, but of a traitor. He knew full well that the vixen had returned before the wall had gone up, and that the first wards had been passed by the golems being aura bound to a student. The cat may have not been the brightest, academically, but he could put two and two together. At the first instant of control, even before his sight had returned, he sprang at her. "This one's for Brutus!"
She was not merely holding the area, she was moving with, and through, the eddies and currents of the energy itself, through the battlefield. She could sense where the other Dysuhlians were with enough detail not to hit them... With one great surge of power, as though someone flexing their muscles, she directed streams of chaotic energy back the direction of the University fall-back points. The safe areas, if you will. There was enough force in these streams to rip a path of escape for them, if they so chose to take it. The only warning that accompanied this surge of destruction was something of a whisper in the minds of her allies near the streams, "Go, live. Don't waste this chance."
Meanwhile, Naia had been staying as calm as she could, focusing on her training. She had been using her paws as the focus of her ward, folding layers of energy around herself and Telemain. Anything that got close to them that wasn't fleeing got buffeted back by her focusing wind magic through her wings, and the ward around the two of them. The entire time that Tel had been controlling the flying things, she had been focusing on the ward, and keeping things away from them.
When the dragon appeared in the air, Naia became quite tense. She hadn't been consciously aware of what she was doing until the final events had been set in motion. Subconsciously, she had made several identical wards in the general area. As the skies themselves seemed to be crashing down atop Naia and Tel, the ward containing the two seemed to switch places with the furthest one from conflict.
At that very moment, after the world had blurred to another spot, a torrent of power shredded a path through the rubble right next to the ward...
Jyya was feeling every ounce of power that the redirected. Her paws and arms were already bloody from the effort thus far. Each shift of the chaos magics flowed over and through her, like shards of glass so fine that they were as if a fine powder, or a heavy smoke on a gentle breeze. She collapsed briefly after that mighty surge. She was so wracked with pain that she couldn't hold herself upright as she screamed her pain. It took her only a moment to force herself back up and resume her assault.
There is a point at which you are so injured, or exhausted, that the only thing moving you is sheer force of will. At this instant, Jyya passed that point. Her skin was being shredded with each surge, she was loosing blood, and her muscles felt as though they were tearing from little more than the blink of an eye. However, she knew that if she stopped, gave-in to her body's plaintive cries for her to stop, that there would be no escape for those outside the University. She pressed forward, now beyond the perimeter wall that had been built, staring directly at the supergolems...
She spent the next few minutes gathering, swirling, and pooling the chaotic energies from the town as well as the veritable killing-field outside where many golems had been destroyed. Soon, she had become the eye of a lethal tempest of energy. She began creating currents in all directions around herself that flowed directly to the area where the supergolems were. Every last drop of power... The tempest of energy had become visible to the naked eye as a mix of every conceivable power source from the area. The tempest had become so all-inclusive that it even had traces of the power the supergolems had fired at the wall, and the university.
With her last act, she forced every drop of that power down into her currents, directly at the supergolems. As the last of the energy flowed from where she stood, she dropped, motionless, parts of her hands, arms, and legs completely missing, into what seemed like the last of her own blood...
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"I'm trying to help, stay calm!" he commanded, hoping some of his words would reach into the crazed rat in shock. He gripped onto Nessus tightly as he set him down onto a table, only to be met by another frenzied fit of movement, accompanied by a begging to find Telemain. "Tel...?" He shook his head. This rat wasn't in any position to move or go anywhere, the weak, crippled movements would probably not let him, and if he tried he would only hurt himself further. "Compose yourself!" the nagging thought of why Nessus called out for his friend with great importance nudged itself consistently against his rational thoughts of staying and treating the rat. He was still out there - possibly dead, a thought that gripped him cold - but he knew that he held a greater role in the scheme of this war just with how every person seemed to treat that young ferx with a degree of respect, or with some form of acknowledgement.
This was Telemain's story that he walked in, and he had to see it through. He gripped onto Nessus tightly, observing his wounds quickly and noted the broken bones, the bruises and bleeding scratches that marred all over his fur, splashing it in crimson blood. He took whatever poultices and bandages he had on his belt and began to hastily apply them to the rat's injuries, binding the broken arm and leg tightly. He didn't have time to work diligently, and went to magic to cold-snap the other smaller wounds after a quick bandaging and poulticing to make sure the ice wouldn't seep into the wounds. He took a step back, checking through whatever supplies he had left as he regarded his patient. If Feres could describe it, it would still be 'a bloody mess'. He frowned; leaving the rat here would only leave him to more danger, but that anxious nagging of Telemain made him ask further as he did a final check on the rat's well-being.
"I can go find him," he reassured him, though his mind doubted the possibility he could withstand running out there to a battlefield, picturing the massive droves of monsters that waited for his demise. "But he's out there fighting. Why do we need him?" he asked, finding the question something ridiculous to pose. It was a stupid mistake to make a shocked, injured patient try and respond to a question, but Feres was out of options as he made a third check of his gear.
That was when the world outside the windows of their little wrecked cottage blared in an awesome glow of white, and that force made Feres stumble and nearly fall onto his knees.
Galvan clung onto dear life, with the writhing mass of monstrosities slavering hungrily as he held on a collapsed section of the wall that he stood, broken apart by some of the explosions - then there was that stars-forsaken beam that shattered the skies nearly blind him and made him lose his balance. He grunted, clawing against the wall to grab at some broken part of the structure, hoisting himself up - only to have a large object ram against the wall and causing him to fall forward instead on his now narrowed platform. He held his breath as he fell, closing his eyes as he quickly vanished mid-fall and reappeared onto solid ground on his feet. He sighed in relief at how lucky he had been able to manage a teleport, but now he was within the walls.
He took a breath, leaning against a husk of a house as he scanned his surroundings. Everywhere there was chaos and death, and shouts of mercy and bloodlusty cries fell into his ears. He huffed, suddenly thinking of his family - elsewhere. Had his mate and eldest returned safely by now? What of Zack, how was he faring?
A cry of pain echoed elsewhere, and the cat flicked his ears, making his active decision to run away from the wall, towards the innards of the town and academy that had become a warzone. That was when he ran past a relatively-better faring house, catching wind of Feres' distinct watery and herbal scent. He doubled back and peeked inside, sure enough he was there with a rat that lay on a table.
"Feres!" he exclaimed with relief. "It is good to see you still standing," he made a brief glance at Nessus, his sharp eyes and nose piercing into each inch of the rat's form. There was magic about him - a dark one, muddled among all those injuries.
"Galvan!" The lynx was equally delighted, walking by the cat and patted him on his shoulder. "I'm happy to see you too." he managed to purr, the relief equally strong in his voice. "I need to find Telemain. Watch him! Heal him if you can!"
"What --?" Galvan wanted to ask for further details but the lynx had already darted off on the note of some form of deranged charge. He frowned, but he appreciated the moment to rest. It also left him with the rat that lay on the table, bloody and bound in bandages. "Let's see what we can do here..." he moved forward, charging his paws with the powers of cleansing fire, the magic coming so naturally to the feline as he began to hover them over the injuries, starting a slow process of mending, trying to send a warm, gentle heat throughout the injuries and forcing recovery. It wasn't purely painless, to be fair - he was no healer, but every elementalist who fancied themselves an able archaeologist should know how to manipulate elements in the art of healing. At the very least, temporary recovery or mending was the end goal - even if pain was part of the process. "Think you can manage a bite, there, rat?" He took out a small, rocky object from a pouch within his pocket. He popped one into his mouth, biting into it with a crunch. "Sugar'll do wonders for you right now. Helps this feel a bit less painful."
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Her younger brother, Giolen, had few such fears—or, if he did, he didn’t show it. If anything, he chafed at being confined to the dorms while others, including his new friend, Caraennyn, were allowed to aid in the war effort. The earth mage was an impatient, impulsive creature, and had gone instinctively to the top floor of the building, to see if he could watch the battles progress. Giolen bounded from window to window, observing the different sections of the wall, feeling equal parts helpless and furious as the retreat was forced. Things had been going so well at first! Why did they have to fall apart now?
Crisena sat in an out-of the-way corner, trying to control her breathing. One of the lookouts had reported the surviving defenders would be falling back towards the University proper, and the light mage knew the battle would soon be upon her.
Sooner than she thought, it turned out, as the residential building was struck by a blast of previously unknown magical energy. Sheltered as she was, Crisena sustained few injuries—only minor scrapes and cuts from tumbling rubble, before the wards held. The ringing in her ears finally stopped and the sounds of chaos outside returned, but it was the silence from the no longer remaining upper floors that held her intention.
“Giolen?” The name was a question, asked in a tremulous voice that already knew the answer. She hadn’t seen her brother since the start of the battle, but she knew him well enough to know where he would have been when the blast hit. “Giolen!”
She tried to run towards the collapsed stairwell, as if hoping beyond hope to see the young earth mage come bounding down; frightened and shaken, but unhurt. Friendly paws caught her firm and held her fast, but she couldn’t feel them, or comprehend their friendly intent. She struggled weakly, her heart refusing to accept what her mind knew had to be true. " Giolen!"
C. S. Lewis
"With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere."
C. S. Lewis
"There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.'"
C. S. Lewis
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The stunned silence was short lived, broken first by the cataclysmic ripping explosion of the second Notrol Supergolem firing and then by the screaming roar of the University's defensive wards. The light and color of magic was intense enough to blind them all, but the feline came at her anyway- practically threw himself at her, snarling abuse and mentioning a name she did not know. Her crippled mind ceded control again to that vile new thing, and she dropped slightly, trying to duck under his charge and flip him over.
Momentary blindness dashed that plan. Caraennyn got lucky: his fist contacted squarely with the side of Amelia's skull, rattling her nerves and throwing the world into a spinning morass of vertigo and tunnel vision. Unfortunately for the feline, that luck bit both ways: the weight falling on Amelia was suddenly supported almost entirely by her knee in his crotch. They were briefly a tumbling, howling, dazed ball of fur and limbs and cloaks.
Amelia recovered quickly. At the end of their tumble she reached across her midriff to either side of her waist and drew her hands sharply back. From one side an artificed gauntlet of wardstone armor summoned a Dysuhlian conjured sword and from the other a lithe hand of flesh and blood summoned a Lux blade. As she toppled over him she tore both blades up and across like scissors, two incompatible magics crackling and sparking against one another.
In this short time, the 4th generation assault golem made little in the way of overt hostile action, instead remaining invisible and beginning to maneuver itself silently behind Matteo's back. It did not know these furs and it did not feel the reluctance to kill them that Amelia did, however it was practically at the University's doorstep, and it would not strike until the time was right. It had been given orders just as Amelia had. If she could not draw the Dean out, perhaps a hostage would.
The cat's question wormed its way through the haze and pain just as that horrible glow beyond the crumbling walls subsided. Nessus felt like he should be dead, the pain was so incredible, so palpable, but there was enough fervor there to overwhelm it all- he grabbed Feres' collar and yanked at him both to steady himself and pull the feline closer. Why did they need Telemain? The question was wrong. It was backwards. "He needs ussss," Nessus hissed urgently. The rat looked far past the ceiling, "…a voice in the darkness… without Telemain… there will be no answers…" Telemain would not survive on his own. He had Naia, but would that be enough?
"Vedicus… not feilan?…not…real?…"
There was much more, but what, by the divine- no, by damnation!- what was it!? Thoughts and memories collided in his head, a wagon train in a mad cascading tumble from the paths of normal reason. There were memories of odd reports from the field, of encounters, of observations. There was Zodt's conversation with Vedicus during their duel so long ago. Anecdotal evidence from dozens of sources, dozens of University operatives across Feila, sights and sounds from past and present, and the knowledge that… that… the thing was no person. And then there was the meeting after Nessus arrived at the Unseen University. NO, a battle! There had been a battle before it, in a nearby town. A few dozen had died. A few buildings had been destroyed. It had been the first appearance of Assault Golems in modern times. Telemain… or the Dean… a University fur had done something to try to destroy them, to disassemble or destabilize them. They'd used magic designed to damage constructs.
And Vedicus, standing nearby, had screamed.
And he had writhed in pain. It had not been the first time this had happened, and it had not been the last.
Nessus dazed eyes focused on the lynx. He heaved hard on his collar, hoisting himself closer to Feres' ear, and with what strength remained he gasped out the secret. "Vedicus… a- construct!…" It had all came together. Everything he'd seen. Everything he'd heard. Vedicus could walk and talk and think. He could eat, and drink, and even bleed, and die! He came out of Nessus' mother, born in a manner befitting furs. He'd even grown up- he'd started out the size and shape of a small, feral rat, and had grown to resemble everyone around him. But he was not a Feilan. He was a tool in the literal sense of the word. Vedicus had been engineered- constructed. He was a thing, no more alive than a clockwork toy or a well-honed sword. He had been planted within a convenient female, to come into the world in a way avoiding suspicion, to have a family, a lineage, a history. He- it- really was a weapon. It was a weapon which could think and strategize and communicate; a weapon which could grow in power and become more than it had been. But in the end it remained a weapon, and despite the noble ideals fighting furs might ascribe to them, weapons have only one ultimate purpose.
"…a construct… like none ever seen before…"
The rat sank back against the table, too tired to go on. The mental lightning started turning to mental molasses, but not before his mind turned inward again, to his arrival and the meeting. He murmured to the lynx's back just before he ducked out, "'One with… expertise… in breaking down constructs… is in our midst.' Find Telemain. Tell him- everything!" It would not be so simple. It never was. They would need an opening; a chink in the magic's armor, so to speak, or a strand out of place, an imperfection of some kind, something- anything! In all these centuries, none had yet appeared. But if there was even the tiniest glimmer of hope- the tiniest chance of finally putting an end to the endless cycle of destruction, death, and resurrection- they had to try. They had to try. Defeating the army would not be enough on its own, for it would not save them from their future. "If Tel dies… we lose."
We… he and his friends and associates. We… the teachers and students of the Unseen University. We… the townsfolk of Academia. We… the people of Gawain. We… Feila. Everyone anyone ever knew, every man women and child, every loved one; every person, everywhere. It would only be a matter of time...
Feres darted off.
The small, feral rat which had been nosing about in the corner of the ruined house abruptly scurried out the door after him, leaving a half-eaten seed behind.
After the lynx left, Nessus was only peripherally aware of Galvan's presence and ofttimes painful ministrations. He occasionally mumbled things which didn't make any sense and he occasionally reached for things which weren't there, but he was, by now, completely out of it. The offered sugar didn't even register.
Antinom ran and ducked and wove and took turns helping to carry the wounded and dieing on their makeshift gurneys, but there was so much rubble, and the streets had quickly become scorched and burnt or completely buried. Academia was no longer a town, it was a war zone and a ruin. It was a close gathering of gutted piles which had once been houses and markets and workshops. It was a sprawling junk heap threatening to close them in on all sides before they could reach the relative safety of the University, so close, but so distant.
Priscus, also helping the wounded, looked across the stretcher at him. He didn't say anything, and his face was expressionless, but Antinom was somehow able to divine what he was thinking. Something in his eyes made it clear: they were a spent force. Half were dead. Half of the remaining were injured, and most of those could not move under their own power. Yes, Priscus' eyes said it all: they might have to leave the injured behind to die. The remaining rats no longer had the strength to spare. Golems were moving back into the void left by Jyya's flight.
What the remaining Dysuhlian combatants did not realize as they prepared to scale the massive pile of debris cast off by the damaged University was that they had a guardian angel of sorts. It was not the kind of almost fairy-tale-esque white-robed-and-winged saint from the celestial sphere, either. It was a spirit of power and destruction and self-sacrifice, and it hadn't forgotten them. Before their eyes a terrifying column of bent reality like a trillion glittering prisms swept across the rubble, obliterating a wide, flat, long path straight from where they hid to the base of the University's walls, and the tiniest whisper of a voice caressed their minds, telling them to go and survive, to live.
They ran. They grabbed the injured on their planks and ran as quickly as they could. A slicing beam of purple pierced part of the crowd, killing several, but soon even those terrible Fey-weilding corpses were distracted by… something. Nobody dared look behind to see what it was while survival shone brightly just ahead.
"A hit!" the commander of Notrol 2 barked, "a respectable first strike, but we can do better! Make preparations to fire again. I want more power!"
"We've overdrawn the weapon, it will be some time before we can fire or move."
That was… annoying news, but not totally unexpected. They dished out a particularly mighty blow, after all. "Our shot caused damage to their magical workshop though we did not hit it directly..."
The targeting collie swiveled in his seat. His fur, like all of theirs, had been poofed outward by excess static energy in the air. "The building may be the source of their defenses' power. The surge was directed through the spheres on top. Removing them may disable their wards."
"Excellent suggestion. Target the workshops. We crushed the top of the other building. If we do the same here, we should be able to disable whatever foul thaumatic concoction those pests have assembled there, whether the whole building falls or not."
The commander paced and cast his gaze towards the edge of the town nearest them. They were losing golems down there at an astounding rate. At first his eyes could only make out the loss of the machines themselves which crumpled and exploded or sheered apart, but then he saw the apparently tiny kangaroo rat. It was coming this way, and the storm of chaos around it was only growing greater and greater, more and more turbulent. "Put up our defensive wards."
The second collie's hands flew across the command surface. The supergolem's interleaved Dysuhlian wards and Fey energy fields should be able to resist anything the kangaroo rat threw their way, or at least offer enough protection for the wardstone armor to bear the rest. The only trouble was that their wards were not functioning right now. They drew their power from the Flame of Notrol through the same conduits as the main weapon. Until that mechanism vented it's excess energy, they would not function. "I can't…"
"She's coming this way!"
"We haven't vented! We've just fired!"
The collie command sent orders to the Purple Fetch mounted across the chest of the machine and those on the ground, and soon the creature's mouths and their lances of purple obliteration were turned away from the town to swat at this little rodent. But they were only crisscrossing the sky around her and digging ditches in the ground. The chaos was throwing them off in all directions, they could not target her. "Where are my wards!" He shouted again as a vast field of raw, chaotic energy exploded outward from her, towards them.
He threw the second collie from his seat and slammed his hands against the command surface, throwing haphazard command scrit across it.
The machine beneath his feet protested, groaning and creaking and emitting metallic squeals as it was pushed far beyond design specifications. It had put so much power into their attack against the Unseen University already, and now, as that power was still lingering and waiting to be vented as heat into the air, it was being asked to run even more power through the same tired pathways.
An iridescent purple shield of sorts flickered fitfully just ahead of the golem. It was, to the standards of the much smaller Dysuhlian Assault Golems, tremendously powerful. Next to the ward a fur might put up, it was multiple orders of magnitude greater. But it was makeshift and anemic, flickering and yielding, compared to what it should have been, and the force of raw energy which leapt across the battlefield and now began colliding with it was inconceivably powerful to all save- maybe- Vedicus, or the mysterious hybrid deeper in the town. It was a new kind of magic to them, a new twist in the weave, as Fey had been to the University so short a time ago, and like the University furs they were poorly prepared.
The wardstone under the collies' feet began to heat up until it burned. They screamed, trying to climb higher into the crown, but the whole black glistening construct was trembling violently beneath them. Seams began splitting across it's armor. Smoke erupted in great black sheets from within. It also screamed- the metal deep inside- and then things started cracking and snapping. The wing-like heat vanes spread behind it were glowing white hot and beginning to melt. The defensive field flickered, hesitated, and collapsed around them. Chaos flew in and among the collies, in and among the armor and gears and machinery. It peeled armor away like the layers of an onion.
The collie commander clung to the crown spire, only to loose his grip and dangle from one hand above the molten hot command deck. The other two had climbed higher- one of them was eviscerated by an errant current of magic. The other was screaming as his fur burnt around him. The commander clenched his teeth, looked between the hot metal below and his last grip on the crown above. He was fully armored. The crown was in constant motion. His fingers began to slip, and he soon fell, screaming, into what had become a pool of liquid wardstone. His agony was unspeakable but short.
Like a watermelon with a firecracker inside scaled up a thousand-fold, Notrol 2 exploded. It's outer wardstone shell blew into countless fragments hurtling in all directions. Molten metal in great globules followed, carrying with them the remains of gears and shafts and thaumatic conduits and other machines, and an enormous fireball mixing the purple of Fey and the reds of Dysuhlian energies rose high into the sky to form a vast cloud like some colossal toadstool.
"There!" Desdemona demanded with the thrust of a finger, "what is that!?"
It was… a feilan, but a feilan like she'd never seen. A living fur should not have been able to control and direct that kind of power! That is why truly powerful creatures like Vedicus were dead! They did not draw breath or suffer for a loss of blood. Living meant being bound by the frailties of a living thing. This tiny feilan rodent was either dead or doomed, but not before-
"Put up our wards!" Desdemona roared, throwing her hands above her head, "all of them!"
She grabbed him by the collar of his armor and shook vigorously, screaming into his face as torrents of death approached, "venting will be the least of our worries if the golem explodes!!!"
Her Supergolem, Notrol 1, and Notrol 2 were the two closest to this side of the University, and the two which would receive the brunt of the impact. Desdemona would have sighed with relief when her golem's defensive systems finally came back online, but they were at reduced power. The wards blazed purple as they struggled to hold back the onslaught, and she and the other collies tossed themselves to the floor where the lip of the command platform would help to shield them.
It seemed an eternity to her. With her head against the deck plate, she could hear every creak and grown of the machinery below her, and in her mind's eye she could see the horrific loss of Notrol 2 played over and over again and imagine how terrible the deaths of it's crew must have been. Notrol 1 had fired with less power, and it had had more time to cool afterwards. When the wards failed, the kangaroo rat's attack had largely passed, and though those last tendrils of magic tore great chunks from the golem and savaged much of it's internal components, it did not explode.
"Sound off," Desdemona called, and listened as each of the other collies let her know they still lived. "I want us moving as soon as possible. We can't afford to be that vulnerable to one freak of nature again."
"Commander…" the second collie's tone did not carry the message Desdemona wanted to hear. When he continued, he confirmed her fears, "commander, we aren't going anywhere… ever again."
For a second the world seemed to come to a stop for Vedicus. The dragon's hurricane-force blast of wind, accelerated plasma and bile from it's rotted innards, and the rat's own power impacted right on top of that cursed ferret and his pet and crushed, seared, and blasted the world- his world- clean of that menace once and for all. The ecstasy was incredible, as was the thrill, and the light of the future smiling on him. Oh how his pleasure would multiply when he wiped that smug smile from the future's face and added it's corpse to the growing piles below! For the briefest moment, he was without a care. Without it's soul, the University would crumble. A heart without a soul is mute. He could leave right this instant and finish the University at his leisure. And then the rest- Azalus, his masters- would all follow.
He'd offered the ferret power and importance once, at the behest of his masters! Had they known even then what was coming? Had they been trying to co-opt this weapon against him into close contact lest Vedicus betray their will? He had come so close to suicide and he hadn't even known it. Now the ferret was dead! The so-called "eighth," the one who could bend chaos at the flip of a coin, the one he'd mistakenly thought Amelengrian to be so long ago, was gone. Vedicus' power would only grow and grow, never to be undone. Ever.
It was an instant of the closest thing to bliss his not-mind could experience, but it soon ended. There were no corpses. There would not have been any corpses in what had once been the street below, which was now a crater with molten glass at it's center, but there would have been a residue Vedicus could detect. It was absent. In the second instant of what should have been his new life, he realized he had failed yet again. Telemain still lived.
In the third instant of his new life, the front of the dragon dove into invisible wards. The monstrous flyer's neck twisted violently against this invisible force. Vedicus lost his footing and grabbed one of the dragon's horns. The creature went from flying across the sky to falling across the sky, losing control as it pierced layer after layer, barrier after folded barrier.
In the fourth instant of what should have been the beginning of his new life, the Dragon Killer missed. The dragon's head, and Vedicus, had been turned aside with such ferocity that they were not where they would have been. The smaller flying machine overloaded to the side of them and exploded, putting an unrecoverable spin into the dragon's flight, and throwing Vedicus off his perch, flailing wildly, lost within the flailing wings and limbs and claws of the dragon as it and they tumbled end over end and collided with the street. His world was a jumble of glass shards and rock and debris and bits of orange fiery sky and black wardstone facets and limbs and the red sphere of energy he'd put up around himself at the last second.
The dragon carved a furrow a hundred feet across the ground before coming to rest, but it still functioned. Some part of it, filled with ancient sorrow, knew that despite what its kind had tried telling themselves long ago, wardstone was a superior armor to their scales. The dragonkillers had been designed to pierce the scaly hides of legendary dragons with their wardstone lances and then detonate inside of them. Countless killers were swatted from the sky for every dragon whose brains and innards were shredded by sudden fire, but the rats' manufactories churned out more and more of them, without end, and the dragons continued to fall. They could not be manufactured. Their fall had an end.
The rat-thing Vedicus had been thrown during the crash landing and was out of sight. What those glowing red corrupted draconian eyes did see were the University's wards, deadly and inviting, some distance away. So what remained of the Dragon of the West righted itself, lifting damaged skeletal wings to either side, and began clawing it's way over the top of the rubble. Furs, golems, it blasted to destruction anything standing between itself and those deadly wards- anything between itself and salvation.
With the last of the Dysuhlian injured safely through the University gates and the uninjured fighters just about through as well, Antinom himself took one last look around the ruin of Academia- and saw a lynx run across the path cleared by Jyya. And then, a few seconds later, a Mauler Golem slid ghostlike and silent across the path as well, following it's prey.
He wasn't entirely sure why he started running back out into all that death and ruin. He didn't know the lynx personally, and the feline had had a perfect chance to make a run for the University himself. The powerful mages defending the school's wall would have dealt with the mauler. What he did know was that the lynx had been with Telemain, and that Telemain was somehow important. Above and beyond that, like so many things which had happened over the past few hours, this one carried a feeling of fate. It was a strange new sensation to Antinom, but he'd lived long enough to figure out that something big was about to happen, somewhere out there.
The rat was surprised to hear another rat's footfalls next to him, and even more surprised to see Priscus there. If any rat was immune to the vagaries of gut instinct, it should have been that affectless rat. His logic, too, should have kept him at the University: he did not know the lynx, and so his life- which was a known quantity- carried more value. But here he was.
The mauler golem did not take long catching up to it's prey. It moved like fluid or mist over the rubble, flowing on its four legs along the paths of least resistance, making hardly a sound until it was almost on top of him.
The machine moved to strike with little fan fair. There were no pipe-organ roars or trumpets to give away its position. It did not posture, or make it's presence known. The only indication that it was there behind him was the raucous crush and crumble of the debris beneath its feet as it pushed off into the killing lunge employed by its kind, jaws of enormous teeth gaping open, forepaws of curved claws reaching forward. It would land atop Feres. Whether claws or jaws found purchase hardly mattered when the creature weighed many tons. He would be crushed either way.
A ripping sound drowned the muted explosions of distant battle as a blast from Antinom's enchanted weapon crossed the alley to explode against the golem's back. The lone, futile strike had had no hope of saving Feres' life, but the rat had had to try anyway. The golem was already coming down atop the fur's back, tons of metal on an unstoppable trajectory into a small fur of comparatively weak flesh. Whatever purpose the lynx was yet to serve would be forever lost.
At the last possible conceivable moment the earth beneath their feet lurched and a great spike of bedrock sliced upwards out of the ground and deep into the golem's chest. It came to an abrupt halt, metal screeched and ripping apart in a rain of sparks, limbs twisting futilely, fanged jaw hanging open, teeth never having tasted the lynx's blood.
Antinom and Priscus came running over the rubble pile in a mighty hurry. Another mauler golem crested the hill behind them. Again, a spike of stoney destruction jabbed up. The golem dodged. Antinom and Priscus stopped at Feres' side, turned, fired their thaumatic weapons into it. It kept coming.
Zodt seemed to come out of nowhere, sprinting up behind them, skidding to a halt, and bringing her palms together with as great a force as possible. The mauler golem ahead of them was hefted from the ground and crushed in from either side by invisible force until it fell twitching and smoldering to the ground.
What was visible of the jird's flesh- her nose, hands, feet, and inner ears- were very pale, and blood had stained either side of her mouth. She was bruised and battered, her cloths torn to tatters, and her fighting stance was sloppy and uncertain. The moment the golem had fallen, her arms had wrapped around her midriff as if holding her sides in though there were no apparent injuries there. Her mouth was tensely clamped shut. She said nothing. But she was here, and she was alive, and her eyes blazed with intent and a little hysteria, a sharp gaze dulled by pain and loss of blood.
She just looked at them, and settled on Feres, waiting. She could see it in his eyes and stance and suicidal choice not to flee to the new line of defense. He was here to fulfill a purpose. His purpose was now also her purpose.
Antinom and Priscus stood to the other side of the lynx.
The statesman had made the feline's purpose his own as well, without even knowing what it was.
Priscus' was… unreadable. He looked between the lot of them and simply said, "what now."
Desdemona watched Academia burn and the dust around the University settle for a time, contemplating what to do next. She was next in command after Vedicus, and her master hadn't issued any orders or communicated at all for some time now. She just watched this half of the battlefield slowly descend towards into chaos.
"Commander…" one of the male collies prodded after a time. "Do we have any orders?"
She thought about this, looking at him and then the golem controls. "You're sure this supergolem cannot be salvaged?"
"Yes," the targeting collie interjected edgewise, "it is too heavily damaged. We'd need a manufactory to repair it. Maybe we could get it moving on our own with the help of the others, but it would take weeks or months."
That cursed kangaroo rat had made her choice for her, then. "Is the weapon functional? Can we slew to a new target?"
"Yes and yes."
"Then target the top of their workshop- the building with the spheres- and rig the main weapon to overload." The two male collies glanced across at each other, and Desdemona growled at them, "do it, then go and join the others on the battlefield. I will move my command to Notrol 3 and continue from there."
They got to work, hands flying deftly across command surfaces, preparing the supergolem for it's final fate. In a matter of minutes the main weapon would begin its firing sequence, and then hold it indefinitely. Maybe thirty minutes or an hour later, the machinery within would overload and the golem would incinerate itself just as Notrol 2 had, directing all of that destructive energy in a tight beam towards the University.
The three collies began climbing down from the machine, summoning the few surviving Purple Fetch to follow them.
They surveyed the battlefield from afar as they travelled. At this distance they had little to fear from defending University furs, all of whom had either retreated or died, and they only occasionally had to duck behind the hulking remains of assault golems. The battlefield in and around the southeastern and southwestern quarters had lost all semblance of order. The remaining assault golems were mostly from Rennes and ancient Dysuhl, the one being clever and the other tough, and they were scattered loosely, the one in cooperative bands and the others marching steadfastly forwards on their own. The skeleton soldiers had had little chance here. An enormous quantity had been melted by alchemical mines, and the rest had as much to fear from the rampaging golems as they did from the University's traps. Towards the southwest, the kangaroo rat had blasted a long furrow through the rubble stretching from the University's fallback positions almost right to the remains of the outer perimeter. Vedicus and the dragon had crashed somewhere east of there.
The northern quadrants of the town were different. Covered by the Purple Fetch riding Notrol 3 and Notrol 4, the golems and skeletons had worked in close coordination and tight formations to push a great wedge deep into Academia, and they were now beginning to approach and take heavy fire from the University proper. Desdemona had messaged the commanders of those assault golems that they should not open fire with their main armaments until she arrived.
The black mass of the partially-disabled Notrol 1 still stood where it had come to rest. Purple currents of energy enveloped it and its radiators were once more beginning to glow as it's weapon began the slow process of readying itself for the last time.
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"Right, back to business." He said, pulling away. He felt as if his blood were fizzing in his veins, every nerve tense and alive with streaming electricity. Tel's senses, mundane and magical, felt all the sharper. Running Hot, his old master had called it. The ferx would probably pay for it tomorrow, but today he was on top of his game.
Grabbing Naia's paw, they sprinted for the next ward point as Jyya opened the path. To the side, he could see the effect his kamikaze dive with the hacked dragonkiller had had. *The damned thing missed the mark!* Vedicus he could not see, but it was too much to hope that he was dead yet. Time enough to survey the situation once they'd made it to the next ward.
As the pair arrived, Tel remembered he was still wearing the psychic band. The other, which had been connected to the flying golem, was now embedded in the undead dragon. With a start, the ferx realized he could actually feel thoughts from the thing, or at least feelings, an emotion of sorrow, and perhaps fear as well, or desperation?
He shot a glance skyward. The air was clear; his sowing of confusion had caused all the dragonkillers to shoot themselves down. If Zechariah returned in time, there would be no aerial opposition. *Or... if his ancestor were to come back...* He almost laughed at the thought, but what did they have to lose? The bands were for two-way communication, after all...
*Vesperocci, vrátit a bojovat. Vaše vassals se potřebují vás*.* Zechariah had preserved the ancient tongue of his tribe, and had taken some time to teach the basics to the UU students, along with his family history. The leaders of the Dragons of the West bore the surname Vesperocci, and to venture a guess, this creature had born the name in life. Perhaps he was too far gone to be expected to remember his oaths and obligations to his people, but if he did, there were clear skies and the ancient enemy to battle...
Anyone meeting Caraennyn, at anytime or anyplace, with the possible exception of the playing field, would have nailed him immediately as a lad out of his depths. Academically, he served to make his fellow-students look good. Socially, he stumbled along from one faux pas to another. Even on the battlefield, he couldn't help but feel sub-par in his contribution, and it didn't help that the best thing he could bring was his friend Brutus the battlemage, and the cat had gotten him killed.
No, actually, not true, not wholly. This vixen- no, thing that was a vixen had some fault in it. This fact kept firm Caraennyn's hold upon Amelia, for all that the pain in his groin was demanding that he curl up in a ball and simply whimper. "You... how could... betray... us?" The words were pained grunts, spat out at intervals in the wrestling match. The cat had more training that the former vixen, but wrestling with a part-machine is no small task, and he felt himself beginning to falter.
Matteo was only beginning to recover from his initial shock. By this time, interference would be ill-advised. Not that the lemur would have felt up to hurting Amelia... again. Even now. He took a few steps backward- and touched wardstone. Sluggish synapses snapped into lightning speed. He knew what this must be, and how close he was to death. But this also joggled memories, of the last time he and Amelia were near an assault golem...
Action followed thought. Quick as a finger-snap he summoned a temporal discontinuity in the vicinity of the golem. At point-blank range, it couldn't fail to hit, though what would happen to any fur as close as Matteo was to it... he had not bothered to consider.
It was... creepy, Valencii decided at last. No need to search for any more elaborate words, that one summed it up nicely. It was creepy looking into the hollow, shining eye sockets of a former University Warden. Valencii wasn't familiar with the power of the fey himself, not really, and had little idea of what had actually happened.
The mouse spared a few minutes trying to gain his colleague's attention, by means of shouting and waving. No dice; he couldn't spare any more time. "Well, I'm sure you know what you're doing." He said, as calmly as he could, returning to his own preparations. They were mostly complete, only awaiting word from outside that all the defenders had been gathered in.
Kosigan, the equine TA of Dr. Martin, was helping to restrain a student from scrambling up the demolished staircase. His face was set, and grim. Naismith, the tigress TA, had also been on the top floor. He knew what she felt, how useless words were now. Words were for the mind, which could indifferently accept the fact. The heart rebelled against cold facts, and would not be calmed by negotiation.
He waited until she stopped pulling against his grip. When the strain had given out, the others went elsewhere. He stayed, turning her around until she could see his eyes, see the loss in them, and knew that he understood. Sparing one moment for grief in the middle of the battlefield, he pulled her into a wordless hug, one bereaved to another. Then, he had to go; duty called him elsewhere, and as for Crisena, there were surviving wounded to help heal, physically, at least.
The badger groaned, slowly getting to her feet. Dressed in her underclothes and sans staff, she took a while to get her bearings. In a somewhat dazed manner, she roll-called the mirror contacts at each of the wall-points. Things were getting hairy at the at the northern quadrants, but the wards were holding.
Beyond the wall, Jyya was running out of her borrowed time. She was faltering, the Dean could see, but she had not neglected to provide herself with one final blaze of glory. "Good girl..." She murmured, shaking her head sorrowfully. "Good girl."
The wards thrummed, as the new influx of fey power weaved in the ancient defenses, bolstering them for the next blow. Despite all the engineering of Vedicus and his followers, they hadn't yet come up with a more efficient channel of the Flame of Notrol than a living vassal of its power.
What had once been Aldous Dench was that conduit now, once the master of the University wards, now only a component. But not a trivial component; he/it stood at the center of the defenses, feeling their structure, feeding their strength. But they were not all he felt. He could feel the purple fey, in the golems and fetch surrounding the University. He/it could feel the power build again in Notrol 1.
Perhaps there was a bit of the Warden left, after all. How else to explain the ghastly rictus of a smug smile that twitched and jerked to life among the weasel's features? Did these users know with what they were dealing? They would soon find out...
Tel and Naia had to flee to another barrier. Partly to get out of the dragon's way, partly to get closer to the University gates. There was little more they could do out here, and Vedicus could be anywhere. Best to present a moving target.
This put him at one of the few intact allies leading into the main street. He caught a glimpse of a mauler golem charging down the street, only to be seemingly crushed between the two fists of an invisible giant. Cautiously, he crept around the corner, checking if any more reinforcements were coming. One more was, a mauler golem, intent on it's target.
Running hot as he was, it was little difficulty for Tel to reach for another coin, and but the work of another instant to set the majide at work. This was but a single golem, and the jinx had been designed for so much more...
Once the wreckage stopped twisting, he emerged, observing Feres and the rats. "Looking for me?" He asked, a slightly unbalanced grin stealing across his face, to leave just as quickly. "We'd best retreat now, then. Naia can boost us along to the gates; Vedicus could be anywhere; shouldn't stay still." He rattled off the phrases, one breath for each. He wasn't faltering now, just impatient. There was a Plan, he knew, a contingency battle plan that could still be salvaged, and it depended upon them all getting back before anything else went wrong.
*Vesperocci, return and Fight. Your vassals have need of you.
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The idea caused all kinds of questions to pop up in the lynx's head, but he stowed it aside - figuring out how or why was irrelevant at this point. Only that he had to make sure Telemain hears the news, and that he was safe.
He stumbled over a rock, shifting his weight and swinging an arm to regain his balance. He huffed, nearly out of breath. He ran on, continuing, his ears barely registering anything among the chaos, just running onward to find the ferx. That's when he caught the grumble and groan of something unearthly. Something close. He only had turn his head slightly to see something big coming at speed - the world slowed to a crawl as his body followed suit to face it. The giant golem, maws and sharp appendages was flying towards him, intent on ending his life. He froze in place, eyes wide with horror. He felt its hot air blow into him, the creature so close. He shut his eyes and waited for the inevitable.
But it never came.
There was a groan and a surge of magic. The earth shook and shot a spear to impale the golem - and within moments of a collective of massive force of attacks, the golem lay into a scrap heap.
Feres stared at it in shock, breath shallow and long. He exhaled, relief coming over him. "Th-thank you," he managed to say to his rescuers. Then his sense of duty returned - Telemain --
"Looking for me?" As if on cue, Tel's voice came from the corner of his eye - a slight grin on his snout. Feres sighed again in relief. "We'd best retreat now, then. Naia can boost us along to the gates; Vedicus could be anywhere; shouldn't stay still."
"Telemain, wait." Feres came close to the ferx, eyeing him and Naia for any noteworthy injuries of any sort out of concern. "Vedicus is a construct. Nessus told me."
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Crisena was by no means an expert healer—being more suited for defensive spells—but she was a fairly decent one. She didn’t try to murmur words of comfort or calm, as she might have another time, but worked mechanically, doing what she could for one before moving on.
In the middle of transporting injured students from the dorm building to one of the still intact structures, she saw it, glittering dully in a heap of rubble. It was melted and twisted slightly, but she could recognize the bronze-and-brownstone pendant her father had made as a sort of ‘peace offering’ when the siblings left. Her paw went unconsciously to rest on her silver bracelet for a heartbeat, then she stooped and picked up the pendant.
The chain was broken and the pendant itself nearly turned spiral, but a skilled jeweler could’ve repaired it. Crisena clenched her paw, fighting down the grief that wanted to turn to hysteria again—there was no time in the middle of a battle. Much better, for now, to go on as she had been.
C. S. Lewis
"With the possible exception of the equator, everything begins somewhere."
C. S. Lewis
"There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.'"
C. S. Lewis
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He watched stoically as beams of purple fey from the rotted mouths of those fetch stabbed out and punched deep indentations into the University's wards, swatting at defenders and showering them with chipped rock from the wall-tops. Those cursed noisecasters kept popping up like weasels, mouths open, many of them holding hands before them much like an opera singer would, to send sonic dissonance at the golems. The collies swarmed across them mending the wardstone as it cracked and shattered, a constant battle for stability and a major drain on their strength. The whole scene was one of madness.
The Kent Supergolems had a posture he imagined the University furs might find curious. The lot of them marched forwards with their arms bent forward at the elbow, held close to their sides, with the pointed tips of gauntlet fingers straight forwards. Little yellow discharges leapt fitfully like static. As the first approached the outermost extent of the ward, those fingers pierced into it and waves of destabilization surged outward in search of faults and weaknesses, emitting horrific thaumatic wails as they did so. Perhaps these furs had not recognized their intent at first, having presumably no knowledge of the battle at Notrol, but they soon reacted. The two sides, one on the golem and the other on the wall, lashed out ferociously at one another. Collies burned and fell. Purple Fetch unleashed their focused hell at point-blank range, raking the wall-top. Noisecasters sang and screamed. Earth mages tore at the golem's feet. White-robed Fetch sent their playing cards in graceful arcs from hand to hand. Wardstone chipped and fragments flew. Alchemical mines soared overhead. Fluids melted flesh. The Supergolem was stoic in the face of all this, nothing more than a dumb tool. It could not be distracted, only destroyed.
A second Kent Supergolem reached the wards and it too plunged it's splayed wardstone fingers into it, adding to the destabilization, taking fire just as the first, defended just as mightily, doubling the chaos and violence and hell.
It was strange for Armel to witness all this. He knew, intellectually, that he and his fellows were doing a terrible thing here, but for some reason it didn't really matter. The suffering, and what would follow, was simply beneath them. The ferocious battle would be for nothing, however, if the vixen delayed much further. She had been instrumental in their circumvention of the town's lesser perimeter wards. The Kent Supergolems could only do so much against these denser wards, so ancient and powerful, on their own.
Amelia felt battered and bruised and broken, but she also felt that she would soon win. The male was larger, physically fit, and evidently well-trained, but her own augmentations, particularly her arm, would never bruise or break or grow tired. She used it to her utmost advantage, pulling his legs out from under him or flipping him on his back, and generally robbing him of whatever advantage he could claw out of her.
Some distance away, the 4th-generation Dysuhlian Assault Golem approached Meteo from behind only for the lemur to back abruptly into it's muzzle and teeth. It opened it's mouth to grab at him- gently enough not to kill him- but it never got the chance. A sudden imbalance blew apart the machinery midway down the length of it's body, and an explosion blasted it in half. The tightly coiled aura masking it from sight unravelled. The golem's hind legs and tail were thrown backward into the remnants of a dwelling. The front of the golem- black and glistening, it's mouth agape in an eerily feilan expression of surprise- was launched into the little lemur. Serrated teeth drove through his back and tore him in two.
Amelia let loose a heart-wrenching cry at the sight of it, her former senses and former self snapping back to the forefront. She saw the front of the assault golem still struggling to function and move, mouth still agape with red tendrils of the lemur's innards hanging from it, blood everywhere. She saw Caraennyn rolling on the ground, badly bruised, great bleeding gashes all across his chest and arms and back- injuries she had inflicted with curved, sharpened fingers. He had been preparing to lunge at her again when it happened, but he now seemed momentarily frozen in shock.
Amelia plunged into sorrow and agony, but Vedicus did not return to whisper in her mind and pull at her strings. She turned and she ran- towards the bolt hole- towards the University- to hide from what she was and what she had brought to bear, to hide behind it's stalwart wards.
She reached the hidden entrance and threw it open.
The corrupted dragon construct grabbed a golem along with a haphazard fistful of skeletons and tossed them out of the way, then reached down and crushed another machine in his powerful maws- chewing the metal once or twice with teeth like black diamond- and with a lithe twist of his neck cast it over his shoulder to land somewhere in town. A serrated tail chopped an intact apartment in two, swung back around, and laid it to waste. Coiled clawed fists crushed men and machine into bloody messes and derelict piles. The great storm accompanying his resurrection was beginning to re-coalesce around and above him and endless cascades of lightning pierced the sky, but the flashes were orange like fire, and there was no rain. A breath of wind from his ready maw- what would have been pure and cool and brisk so long ago- what would have been a noble, controlled kind of strike, not so haphazard as fire or the others- instead carried a visceral torrent of purple bile charged with the necromantic power of Vedicus. It slopped in great projected streamers from his mouth and erupted in long ripping explosions as it fell over the town and the attackers and the few exposed defenders. It traced iridescent, crackling streamers across the University's wards.
The legendary dragon was nearly upon them. It could rear on its haunches and stand head, shoulders, chest, and midriff above their highest parapets to cast a gaze both compelled and sorrowful over everyone left to be slaughtered.
They blazed so inviting before it. But the Rat's will blazed with equal brightness. These… little creatures, had to die. He could see clear across the quad, between the great buildings, to the main front at the northern walls. The Kent Supergolems were pressing their attack, using their specialized equipment to violate the sanctity of these ancient wards. Those war machines were primitive designs. He was capable of so much more than they. The Necromancer had had a dark purpose in mind when he brought his remains to this place.
He peered down at the great curving claws of his forward limbs. Yellow and white burst in fitful arcs between them and stabbed into open air, hungry to feel those wards, to pierce them.
They were throwing magic at him now, the defenders. Spells ricocheted off his countless sharp facets. Discordant frequencies hurtled like projectiles by bardic singers reverberated around his armored casing, but it was hybridized and vitrified, and it would neither crack nor shatter. His great red eyes were likewise, merely resembling the fragile crystal of the assault golems. He was not a simple machine like they. His…corpse…had not been a simple scaffold upon which Vedicus constructed another mere "thing."
A barrage of enchanted crossbow bolts flew up from the walls to ricochet in great streaks of sparks from every wardstone facet. The dragon-machine arced it's neck, bringing it's gaze down to the little creatures, and unleashed another baleful draconic roar so load and piercing that most ducked or shielded their ears. He was practically on top of them, standing nearly at the foot of the walls and towering above it.
So little was left of him. It was a horrible thing he was doing, but he was only a tired remnant. The faintest dreamlike memories of the ideals he once held dear tugged at the ruin of his mind, but Vedicus tugged harder. If only he obeyed the rat he would finally be able to rest, the monster insisted. Vedicus needed just this one small deed from him, and he would be repaid with the peace he'd craved for countless generations.
The red eyes flared. He peered at his claws, coiled them, watched the destabilizing magical flows leaping between them.
"Vesperocci," the words came from somewhere within, speaking a tongue he knew- a tongue he remembered from… somewhere, "return and Fight. Your vassals have need of you."
He felt Vedicus' presence hide within the darker alleyways of his mind from the new voice's touch, waiting, coiling like a snake about to strike, totally distracted from his focus on the dragon and the wall by this interloper.
Another barrage of magic and missiles careened up into him casting fitful light from explosions across his dark carapace. The University's wards shimmered and blazed just ahead of him as fire from golems of various kinds impacted them. The students and mages below fought furiously for their lives, wasting energy on what?- one whom had once been a great protector of this place, of these people, long ago.
It came flooding back to him. Moments ago he had contemplated carrying out the rat's atrocities on the mere promise of being able to rest. Rest? His memory reached back. How many countless decades had he personally protected this realm, sacrificing so much, making so many hard decisions, just as his forebearers had for hundreds of years? was he now to abandon it all merely to save his own soul? He was Vesperocci, the Dragon of the West, defender of this land, these people.
Return and Fight, the voice had urged.
Vedicus' power was insurmountable, but his focus had wavered at the appearance of this foreign mind within Vesperocci's head, and the rat was now preparing to lash out at the interloper. The dragon would not interfere. He could not turn on Vedicus on the battlefield under almost any circumstances- the rat would simply steal away the life he'd granted- but the interloper had unwittingly created just the circumstance he needed, and he would not let the opportunity pass.
He regretted that the feilan would almost certainly not survive his part of the ploy. Vesperocci emitted a powerful impression of danger through the two-way link half a heartbeat ahead of Vedicus' own attack, on the dim hope that perhaps the unwitting interloper would prove more resilient than he thought.
Blood filaments snaked out from a pile of rubble, feeling their way across the ruins, coiling into the air, flowing up into it in defiance of gravity. They wove and danced and spiraled about their mutual center and around and about each other. They formed patterns which fools in their limited vision described as lace-like- those ordered, precise, logical pathways. Artistic expression, the minds would think somewhere beneath the terror. Patterns with no real meaning, they thought.
The patterns grew, the pathways, the blood, the power. Bloodlimbs growing, stretching, entwining. Dust fell up and into the sky with them, and then small pebbles and bits of glass followed, and then stones and cobbles. Heavy timbers. Great Stone slabs. With a sudden blast of power and sharp crack of thunder, the ruined landscape burst outward in a great sphere of everything to reveal the shimmering red shield and Vedicus, arms stretched to either side, palms outward, within.
He gasped for breath. The grey of his hands had gone curiously flesh-toned. But his mind in it's rapidly unravelling sanity failed to register the change.
His shield dissolved. He snarled, black puss staining black lips and yellowed, chipped teeth, as he tried to push back the magic interference which so muddied everything around him. It was as it would have been for a swimmer scuffling about in a silty riverbed, sight constantly obscured to the point uselessness. Where was Telemain? He sniffed at the air, but he smelled everything but the ferret. The world was saturated with magic here. His ethereal perceptions painted a picture which made no sense. He detected the feelings and thoughts associated with sights all across Feila, all jumbled together into nonsense.
The Dragon- he remembered the dragon and returned to it, seeing out of its eyes. He urged it on, to attack the University, to add its power to the Kent Supergolems ahead of Notrol 1's attack. The less stable the wards, the better chance the Notrol Supergolems had of bringing them down with their main armaments which so deviously funneled the mysterious power of the Fey from its ethereal realm.
And then, abruptly…
Their minds mingled once again: Vedicus, the epitome of all that was right in the world, and Telemain, the chaos set against it. He had been shocked when first it had happened, up in the dragon killer far above the battlefield. In his fury and startlement he had relinquished his connection to the machine and lost a great opportunity: the minds of mortals were such fragile things.
He was not startled this time.
He kept his influence tucked out of the way and allowed the ferret to send his message. He even allowed the Dragon- ever a slave to his will- send it's warning back. The rat's own influence hurtled down the two-way link, through the peculiar ring devices of non-dysuhlian manufacture, right on the warning's heels.
The rat himself did not remain still. He ran, following the magical tendrils linking them.
Antinom had barely had a minute to think of what Feres had revealed, the words rattling around his dumbfounded mind, when his feet abruptly left the ground. He'd been struck by something, he realized as the world toppled around him, and when he landed the wind was knocked out of him. His vision went grey for a moment, but he could see some of the others nearby- Priscus. The lynx maybe. They'd all been thrown outward in a circle, with Telemain at it's center.
A streak of Necromantic power impaled the ground three feet from his face and exploded, sending him tumbling again. All around the scene was repeated. The air was abruptly full of power, full of magic. His stomach fell out from under him. The magic was not a friendly sort.
At the center of the conflagration the ferx was awash with lightning coiling and striking in all directions, following the contours of his body, sparking violently between every limb, every finger, every single strand of fur, casting out a cacophony of thaumatic shrieks like a lightning storm condensed from hours to seconds, all awash in discolored light, all emanating from the ring of furious power circling his head- the psionic band.
Telemain was being carried slowly into the air, body twitching and jerking and writhing, face drawn back into an involuntary rictus of shock as Vedicus' influence pierced and tore at his mind.
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But Will, the force and decision of a mind, could shape this energy. Too much, of course, and the mind broke down under the deluge, the soul and being of the fur washed away. Aldous Dench, on his own, was no more. Of his individual will, there was nothing. Of his soul (whose very existence some had ventured to doubt in the first place, before meeting Vedicus), probably no traces could be found.
But it was not simply Dench that the Fey was coursing through. Magic, by its own nature, lives and thrives on the borderland of things, where intangible things may be more substantial than material, and metaphors gain a life of their own. It was not only Aldous' will which made the wards.
1,000 years. Every Warden, every Warden's assistant, every consulted professor, every experimenting student, every visiting magician with something to add, had lent their will and bent forces from every source imaginable. The wards represented more than Defense, they were Continuity, they were Tradition, a living thing, growing and rooted like an old oak. This was the Will of furs, outlasting the Lives of furs. Aldous was only the last in a long line, the Warden who had tied the Wills of the Ages to a single point... and it was through this point that the Fey surged.
Overwhelming to one Soul, one Will, the flood of energy met the living Wills of thousands, and divided along the bequeathed channels. Many Wills, all guided to Two Purposes. *Protect this Place and its own. Destroy the enemies that would harm it.*
Twice, now, Caraennyn had lost his footing. The first time, the cat had scrambled back into a fighting in less than a tick, adrenaline still driving the natural feline instincts and the training of a wrestler into the fray. The second time, Amelia had slammed him into the ground, sending a general wave of pain up and down his body, spiking here and there at various lacerations and fractures.
Adrenaline was draining away, giving way to fatigue, but he did not give up. He could not. There was nothing left, no one else to stand between this traitor and the University. With pained grunts, he got back into his stance and went again to grapple. With heartrending ease, Amelia tossed him back, and he lay still, just for a second. Right now, he needed to breathe. Just a few seconds, just one, and he would get back up-
A prolonged and booming noise, a combination of an an explosion and the sudden uncoiling of a spring, rent the scene and stopped the cat halfway to his feet. The tableau hit him, all at once, without time spared for the conteplating of the individual elements. There was the Assault Golem, or half of it, and Matteo... Matteo's remains, hanging out of it's mouth as the machine continued to struggle for a few seconds, before a lancing shot of magic from the walltop stopped it forever.
Amelia, too, had been shocked, but not for as long. Wrenching herself from the sight, she went straight to the bolt-hole and plunged through. With a wordless cry, Caraennyn stumbled and crawled in after her, only to collapse in a heap just inside the quad.
Kosigyn, having done his best to return Crisena to her sense of Duty, was now on his way to his own, striding across the field to the nearest ladder to join the defenders on the wall. Noting a student who'd collapsed just after coming in through the bolt-hole, he directed the healers to him. He could see another student, stumbling forward, evidently wracked with sobs.
Not surprising, considering the hell that was raging out there. The student- he could see it was a vixen now, had probably just lost a friend, probably many friends, to those accursed Dysuhlian monstrosities. He approached, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Hold up, you don't in any shape to fight now. Best pack in with the refugees for now, we'll see that your friend lives." He did not notice her changes, or recognize her face just yet...
The Dragon being, for now, distracted from Vedicus' purpose, not to mention Amelia, the assault upon the University Wards was conducted wholly by the golems and their followers. On their own, perhaps, they might have worked through, given a month or two's uninterrupted efforts and no strengthening of the wards from the inside. For the purposes of this battle, however, where time could be of the essence, and defenders were not only pouring energy into the wards, but actively counter-attacking the destabilizing golems and mages, their success was a doubtful thing indeed.
Nevertheless, it was apparent that the attackers were making progress. The outer layers sparked and sent tendrils of energy everywhere as they gave way, leaving exposed the older, tougher layers. The golems now had stepped forward quite a bit in to the "hole" in the defenses, now a seething mass of magic. Indeed, there was almost a miniature thaumic storm raging at that localized point, making it impossible for magical senses to return anything but gobbledegook.
Thus it was, for instance, that an underlying pattern remained unseen. All the magical bonds that had connected the layers, copied from the old Druidic rite Telemain had seen on the top of that hill where it all began, they were at loose ends. The tendrils of connecting and reinforcing magic hung loose and waved wildly for a moment, before settling down... over every exposed rivet of the golems, upon every prolonged spell of the attacking mages. They met, and attached, but remained loose, too loose for the attackers to notice.
Suddenly, a tremendous surge of Purple Fey energy shot through the center of the H.E.M. building, meeting the top of the dome like before when it had first been incorporated into the defensive structures. Like before, the surge became a wave that washed over the dome. It met the hole where the golems were "digging" their way through-
And drew every single tendril of binding energy tight.
The fueling energy of the Kent Supergolems was dragged out of their engines through the chinks and cracks made by the defenders, and whisked away into the wards themselves, fueling their ancient cause. The streams of fey spat forth by the purple Fetch were slurped into the wave like streamlets into the sea. Even the cards of the White Fetch seemed to be carried off like in a whirlwind.
There was one moment of clarity in the hole, as all the chaotic energy in the gap was drawn again into strengthening the wards, before the defensive enchantments crashed down upon the attackers like a blunt guillotine, and shut it.
"Vedicus is a construct. Nessus told me."
The lynx's words were all in clear Gawainian. The listening ferx could easily hear and accept this fact, it was not on the face of things ridiculous, though Telemain hardly had any time to think through the implications on the battlefield. That could wait.
Keeping a hold of Naia's hand, he was about to tell her to pull them all inside the University, when a sudden warning of danger surged through the psychic band, rushed through his brain and lodged in the pit of Tel's stomach.
"Watch ou-" He yelled, cut off by the very thing he was nearly to late to signal. The psychic link Tel had made with the dragon was two-way, and there was more than one mind in that creature to take advantage of it.
He didn't feel what was happening to his body. He was barely aware of the fact he had one, at this point. The brief touch of minds in the dragon-killer construct had been merely unpleasant, like being slapped with a fish. This full on assault was like being swallowed by one.
Vedicus permeated through the ferx's mind, his construct nature linking the rat's influence to the rat's being closer than those of mortals. It lanced through him, scattering memories, affections, influences, loyalties aside. The very things which Telemain would have identified as his own identity were sundered from each other, as Vedicus sought his very center to destroy it at last-
Far from the roads of the mountain pass, barely accessible from the steep, winding trails that climbed up and down the mountains like a drunken nest of snakes, there was a rocky shelf, remnant of a long-ago rockslide. It had stood there long enough to acquire soil, enough soil to grow food, and that was enough for the like that lived here.
There was one such out in the fields today, like every day before, taking his spade out to tend the field. There were more rocks than vegetables on this stony shelf, and only one fur with a spade to remove them. Undaunted, the peasant took to the task, striking the cracked stone to break it up, then removing the fragments bit by bit.
Mountain folk either run to the hulking or the wiry. This one was of the wiry sort, running to sinew rather than muscle. The wiry predominated in these mountains, mostly by dint of being musteline, like this peasant. Well, mostly musteline. Black fur where most ferrets had white, pointed ears, and a ragged, bushy tail bespoke of some vulpine influence in the past.
Brown rags sewn clumsily into clothes and a straw hat were all that hung upon his features. The rags for decency, the hat for shade. Not that anyone ever came up here. He'd tended these fields alone, he had, all of his life. It wasn't many years, be all accounts; he still looked young, allowing for the wear from toil.
Something was wrong. Something was different from all the other days. The sun was dimming, reddening. The peasant finished carrying his shovelful of stone to the edge of the dip, planted his spade at the ground and looked up.
What he saw would not be easy, in a visual context, to describe. Suffice it to say he saw what was coming. He saw that dark force, that ruined face, that sneer, fill the sky.
He did not blink. He stared back with all the rooted determination and stubbornness of a fur who would whack away at a rock for years for the prospect of cabbages, and did not know how to quit.
"Trespasser." This laconic judgment pronounced, he drew the spade out of the earth, and struck at the sky. "Gerrout!"
-there was a hitch, just before the blow fell. Telemain's head jerked back, his face shifting from a rictus of shock to a genuine expression of surprise.
And then it happened. It didn't have a proper name or title. Telemain had called it his "jinx" for years, but that wasn't the right word for it. Old Master Skeve had called it the Majide, but that was not its real name. It was known for its effects, for the slight touch of disorder and chaos that ran through the events of Tel's life, for the strange and esoteric monetary nature of its summoning. But above all it was known for one thing, the entropy that is the destruction of all magical constructs, and is only amplified by their complexity.
It had been buried in Telemain, his being growing around it, keeping it below the surface. It was too big to just contain like that, of course, and as his destiny approached, more and more of it had broken through, but still through old, roundabout channels.
But now, now Vedicus had gone and done it. He'd practically disassembled the very cage that held his doom from the world. Scattered in pieces as it was, currently, the being known as Telemain could no longer contain it. It was free, and it wanted to play.
And wouldn't you know it, there was the old boy himself! It didn't even have to leave this mind, he'd come to it! If such things could laugh and leap with delight, it would have laughed and leapt. The tendrils of chaos surged at Vedicus, entangling all the threads of the rat's influence it could find. Insatiably, it sent out more and more tendrils, dancing with delight upon the psychic link, surging right to the source, Vedicus himself.
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A pained howl shot out as he felt his arms take the hit first, the rest of his body slamming against the floor. The world spun and his sight faded as the pain jolted through him. He groaned, trying to lift up an arm where another force shoved him aside like a discarded toy, skidding against the cobblestone. He grimaced, snarling and breathing out sharp gasps whenever he tumbled along the ground. He managed to look upward, and saw Telemain through his blurred eyes, the images focusing slightly on him...floating?
He managed a weak grunt as his hindlegs found the strength to kick at the floor, sitting himself on one knee. He cursed at his eyes being unable to see anything, then his nose picked up the scent of blood coming from somewhere near. He felt something sticky smeared over under his eyes - undoubtedly it was his. Then came the sharp wincing pain from a gash he felt in the same spot. He growled, shaking his head slowly but it did his sight no good. His arms were limp, or rather, attached to just subconsciously cradling the other, both injured from the prior fall. As he began to assess just how his body was, his blurred sight cleared - tendrils shot out from the ferx - somewhere.
"Damn my frail body," Feres cursed.
Galvan had done all he could, shrugging at the form of Nessus. But the nearby explosion of something fierce made his ears perk and crave to run out. He waited, anxiously, tail flicking consistently, but he stayed to watch the rat.
His feet tapped against the wooden floor, ears turned upwards to listen for what may come next.
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