A Midwestern Yankee....(Chapter 20)

Chapter Twenty


              Baron Dimanche remained hidden in his veil of shadow magic as the Swarm buzzed past, an atrocity against all the laws of magic and nature that he'd ever known. He could have tried to destroy it, but he wasn't honestly sure he would succeed.

              Perhaps half a minute later, the first of his lethal magical traps was triggered, a set of glowing yellow bear traps made of magic snapping a goblin cleanly in half. A gotrin skirting past him tripped a storm of magical needles in their scores, turning him and two orcs right behind him into piles of bloody soup.

              Panic set in, propelling the remaining soldiers on with blind speed and disregard for the safety of their peers. Only six escaped his traps, pelting past his hiding place with terror in their eyes. Lumbering along behind them came the man who had chiefly been responsible for undoing the protections and the seal, a troll Dimanche had heard tell of.

              When Foruk was only a few feet away, standing profile to the voodoo spirit, he said quietly, "Think you're pretty fucking clever, don't you?" The troll pivoted and swung his mace with blinding speed, striking Baron Dimanche in the upper arm, knocking him yelping from the shadows against the wall. Before Dimanche could get up, cradling his bleeding, broken arm, Foruk conjured a fist of rock-strewn soil from the tunnel wall, punching him hard in the face. Dimanche cried out, blood and a tooth flying from his mouth as he fell back.

              "Oh, you miserable bastard," the voodoo spirit spat, rising to his feet, right arm dangling uselessly at his side. "I will butcher you!" His left hand glowed with golden light, which then streamed out, forming a flying globe which streaked at Foruk. The troll tried to deflect it with a conjured ice lance, but his spell fell apart as the globe struck it, flying on to crash into the troll's chest. He grunted and fell back, the flesh blackened from the Baron's spell.

              Foruk recovered quickly, whipping roots out of the earthen walls and ceiling to lash at Dimanche with thorns. The voodoo spirit spun his left foot and made a guttural noise, black serpents instantly filling the air, levitating hither and thither, fending off the vines.

              A pair of fireballs, one from each combatant, met in midair the, blasting apart with a roar of equal force. They stood ready, facing each other like duelists. "You can turn back now, troll, and I will let you run," Dimanche rasped. "Odderwise, dis ends wit' you dead on de floor."

              "Ha! Don't make me laugh, fool! I am Foruk, chosen right hand of Luga, vindicator! I will see you reduced to a pile of guts!"

              "Not so much so," said Dimanche. He withdrew the green vial from his dinner jacket. "We met de Gaedling Goblin aftah you and yours went t'rough. You know what he makes really well besides graf?" He held the vial up by the fingertips. "Healing potions." Dimanche let out a cartoonish chuckle, which allowed Foruk to conjure a brief gust of wind magic, snatching the potion for himself. Dimanche looked thunderstruck at him, mouth agape.

              "Thanks for this," Foruk mocked as he uncorked the bottle with his teeth, spat the cork aside, and chugged down the fluid. He tossed the vial aside theatrically and wiped his mouth. "This will help make things much quick-," he said, making a confused face. His stomach felt suddenly heavy, gassy. "Er," he finished, letting out an acidic belch. A tremor racked his upper body, causing his hands to fly open and closed, his mace clattering to the concrete floor of the passageway. "What is happening here," he snarled, hugging his arms to his gut, hunching over as pain gripped his midsection.

              "I nevah said dat was a healing potion," said Dimanche softly, his wooden sandals clacking, echoing as he slowly approached the troll vindicator. "I just pointed out a fact about de Gaedling and held up a vial. Your mind made de connection, not me."

              "What, what did I just, drink," Foruk snarled, falling over as spasms took his legs out from under him.

              "Just a little somet'ing I always bring wit' me to de Ether from my home lands," said Dimanche, now looming over the troll. "It's called belanta, a venom from de riga serpents I keep as pets. Perfectly harmless to spirits, but very deadly to humans and faerie." Foruk flopped onto his back, body writhing as he felt the destructive power of the belanta ripping his body apart from the inside. "De venom has already eaten t'rough your stomach and flowed into your blood stream. It is burning your nerves by slow degrees, rupturing blood vessels. You will be dead in about five minutes. Do you have any final words to pass on?"

              "M-m-m-my mast-t-ter," Foruk managed to choke out. "T-t-tell him, he, w-w-w-was never, r-really, al-l-l-lone." He coughed a gout of blood, rolling onto his side one final time and trembling until finally he lay perfectly still. Foruk had died as he had lived, serving Luga's will.

              Dogs have a way of sensing trouble before it shows up. Many theorize it's their sense of smell. Still others observe that many animals in nature seem highly tuned to signs of danger, reacting long before humans would to unseen threats.

              Many kennin, Daggeuro included, also play host to this sixth sense. He had gone to sleep in his armor, something he didn't usually do when in a city. Now he sat up like he'd been given an electric shock, mind racing. His sword belt hung on the doorknob of Selena's bedroom, and he had it strapped on, weapon ties undone in less than ten seconds. Selena was only just waking up when he was halfway to the front door.

              "Trouble," he shouted back to her by way of a goodbye, aiming himself south from her front porch. He was halfway to the southern gates when his left ear warmed, Baron Dimanche's voice in his head.

              "Foruk found a secret tunnel in and out of de city," the voodoo spirit said. "He brought some ungodly creature wit' him, and six soljahs managed to evade me. He's dead, but dat creature and de soljahs are likely in de city!"

              Daggeuro thought about all he knew of Celia, remembering at last the secret trader tunnel long since abandoned and sealed. It had been believed that nobody short of king Ovin himself would ever be able to undo that magical ward. Apparently, common belief was wrong.

              Daggeuro pinched his earring and gasped, "Where are you now?"

              "De café. Wit' de breach open, I can travel t'rough de Spirit Plane and de shadows again."


              "I'm at the archery range," her voice replied. "I've got something going here, I can't stop."

              "Be careful," Daggeuro said. "Get to a unit for safety!"

              "I'll be fine," she said. Daggeuro had to take her at her word, as he now had other priorities. He turned direction, about to head for the blocked off street where the divars were maintaining the barrier from, when a thick, warbling sound echoed through the city. He looked skyward, screaming bloody rage as the barrier disappeared entirely.

              The divars had already been found.

              Luga howled triumphantly as the barrier disappeared, clapping Casey on the shoulder. She had been holding back from striking the dome, waiting for just this development. "Casey, my dear," Luga said, stepping away from her. "Let fly! Yes, let fly!"

              The taomen, having felt a budding need to break into the city and hunt down her source, to kill Kathy Potts and thus make herself completely free, drew up every drop of her power, focusing it into a pulsing black orb of magical force, yellow streaks of lightning coursing around it in a bright corona. Every footsoldier nearby backed away from her in awe, though a few were more excited than worried. Soon their weapons would bite into armor and flesh and blood, the battle finally begun in earnest.

              Casey let out a banshee wail, the sound reaching through the whole of the city, sending the less-than-brave scurrying for cover. With a snap of her wrist she sent the ball of pulsing black power, as big as a house, creeping toward the southern gates.

              Arrows and spears began falling into the front ranks of his forces, bringing shouts of alarm and cries of pain from several soldiers. Luga's own quest almost finished right then; an arrow missed his head by scant inches, thudding to the ground by his foot. He swiftly put up a personal bubble of wind magic to cast aside further projectile attacks. It wasn't easy, though, for wind was sacred-aligned, oppositional to his core nature.

              The giant orb of power struck the gates, thundering into them with a world-ending explosion of noise. Dust, soil, wood and stone flotsam blasted in all directions, forcing many of Luga's front ranks to raise shields. He hadn't expected to be put at risk from his own side's magic so quickly.

              When the smoke began to clear, however, he saw to his great joy that the damage on the other side had been far worse. Corpses lay in piles of debris in the gap left behind, and those Watchmen and Royal Guard who eluded the full brunt of the attack looked shaken.

              With a flinging of his hand, he issued the call forward into battle, and his army began streaming forward.

              Kathy heard the scream Daggeuro let out half a city away, but she couldn't stop. She had only three more statues to tie the string onto before all of them were bound together. The sound of the southern gates exploding inward closely thereafter gave her pause, but once again she determined to be utterly thorough with this great boon the wefaree had granted her and the citizens of Celia.

              The last statue was tied in, and she still had ten feet to work with. Holding it tight, she envisioned using her magic to bring everything the string touched to life under her command. She used only the same amount of power she would for a single large figurine; she somehow knew she wouldn't need more than that. With the magic already flowing through the string, she marched herself out before the dragon statues, heart pounding, bow now in hand, an arrow in the ready-notch. Luga's people were now in the city, so all bets were off.

              She saw the power making its way toward her, through the string. By the time the shade and his minions passed over the bodies of their first victims, four draconian heads made of painted stone swung to regard her, awaiting Kathy's command.

              "Let's go," she said.

              Daggeuro rammed Boon to the hilt through Blakely's face, never knowing the magic wielding gotrin's name, story, efforts. Such things mattered not at all in the face of the slaughter he'd just found. All of the Watchmen and the divars they'd been set to protect had been devoured down to their bones and gristle. The creature responsible for the carnage was still close, Daggeuro feeling its otherworldly aura long before catching sight of it.

              When he finally spotted the Swarm, the kennin High Knight understood the danger it posed with a single glance. The creature was, in fact, a collective of wicked, flesh-and-bone devouring insects and arachnids. Hitting a few bugs wouldn't have much of an impact. He would need to figure out a way to kill every bug at one time.

              Of course, when it came to battle, Sir Daggeuro was far more clever than most would guess. Sure, he was indeed the greatest swordsman in almost all of the Ether, but as High Knight, he also had been required to be a tactician. The Swarm was lunging and surging in waves at a clutch of seven Watchmen, Daggeuro standing twenty feet behind it. He didn't have access to a great deal of fire magic, but he had enough for this plan.

              Daggeuro sheathed his swords and focused his attention on piles of wooden debris scattered around the area. He sent raw fire magic into the wood nearest the cloud of insects, producing thick black smoke. "Cover it," he shouted to the Watchmen. Thankfully, an elven corporal under attack caught his meaning right away, using wind magic to draw the smoke up around and over the bugs.

              In less than a minute the Swarm's collective lay twitching unconscious on the street, quickly stomped and squished to death by the officers. Daggeuro left them to their grisly duty and aimed himself south, towards Luga and his main force.

              Kathy fired her first arrow at a goblin charging her with axe in hand, and when the armored little cretin kept coming, she twitched her will, sending three stone orcs forth to finish the job quickly. Several more of Luga's people were hurtling themselves around the corner, and when they caught sight of the stone dragons taking wing behind her, they screamed and fled, weapons abandoned.

              With no immediate threat to deal with, Kathy extended her mind up toward the dragons, commanding them to help the Watch and Royal Guard where they were most needed. Similar dispatches were sent back through the ranks of her statue unit, leaving her with twelve staunch defenders, more than enough to keep her feeling secure.

              The next clash brought fourteen heavily armed goblins in black armor and two silver rendermen, all beaten back by her statue warriors and lethally accurate bow shots to exposed throats and foreheads. Kathy felt sick with each soldier she killed, but it was life or death, and she preferred having a pulse.

              She had begun moving south as soon as the animated statues began moving, the unicorn hair string fraying and falling apart, its own inherent magic spent. Kathy was grateful that the statues moved with the speed of the creatures they represented, for half an hour after leaving the park, she was about a quarter of the way to the front lines. Her foes thus far had been those skirmishers able or willing to avoid the thickest fighting, which she assumed meant they were either cowardly or aware enough of their own lack of warfare skills to avoid big groups of opponents.

              Her statue unit brutalized every enemy they came across, immune to most of the weapons and spells hurled at them, moving to defend her from harm. Like a tank they moved south, ever closer to the worst of the fray.

              Kathy's magic would once again be tested soon.

              A spear carved through Daggeuro's legging, its sharpened edge biting painfully into his left calf. He snarled and whipped Bane around, decapitating the Hurik Clan goblin who'd landed the lucky blow. Already he'd led the front lines in a retreat, receiving word that the western front had been shoved even further north, giving up two more streets than the central or eastern lines. Baron Dimanche had used his earring to let him and Kathy know he was bogged down to the east against a host of orcs, gotrin and what he assumed was at a glance a hundred giant scorpion specters.

              No word had come from Kathy, which worried Daggeuro immensely. He parried another incoming attack from a gotrin, cutting the man's throat open before rolling out of the path of a fireball. All around him the unit he fought beside repelled their assailants, pushing them back. He saw no sign of Luga himself, though, or his taomen.

              His focus returned to the enemies before him. One thing at a time, he thought. One thing at a time.