Byron and Kathy saw the elven general fall, and almost immediately after he was dead, The Chained One began his own assault in earnest. A storm of fireballs, ice lances and forks of lightning began flashing out into the ranks of the soldiery, knocking them back, killing some. The chimeras were almost all dead now, Byron’s green werewolves making easy enough work of them in conjunction with Daggeuro’s troops, but the wee folk could do nothing to help until the enchantments blocking their magic were gone.
Daggeuro had joined the fray, and they could see him dodging spells left and right, but as good as he was, he wouldn’t be able to avoid them forever. “This is getting bad,” Kathy said, trying to take aim with her bow at one of the last two chimeras still standing. It was atop an unfortunate gotrin soldier, mauling the poor man as several of his brothers in arms tried to get the creature off of him, but it kept them at bay by taking vicious bites at them as it bashed their comrade mercilessly with its claws.
Kathy loosed her arrow, and it caught the specter right above its right eye, dropping it dead. Byron raised an eyebrow at her. “Um, did I see that arrow stop and readjust?”
“Yeah, I can do that,” Kathy said casually. “It’s just using my ability to manipulate inanimate objects. Why?” Byron’s mouth was widening into an impish grin, and she felt a twinge of hope for their chances.
“Kathy, I’m not sure, but I think I may have just figured out how we’re going to end this whole battle. Can you send a message to Daggeuro?” She put out one hand, and a moment later, one of her few remaining hummingbird figurines flitted down into her hand. She held it tight for a moment, then sent it off toward the kennin warrior, who ran over to join them a couple of minutes later, carefully dodging magical strikes being heaved from The Chained One, who was himself now slowed down, having to fight against the wee folk and their potent powers.
“Time is short,” Daggeuro huffed as he skidded to a halt before them, a gash open on his left temple from flying shards of debris thrown up by an earthen explosion launched by the creature once known as Cassius Melchar. “What news from you?” Byron explained his idea as Kathy and Daggeuro joined him in a three-man huddle, the battle still raging on all sides around them. When the Awakened human finished explaining his idea, Kathy and Daggeuro both beamed at him. “That’s quite clever, Byron. Kathy, can you do what he proposes?”
“Oh, I’ve got the power for that,” she said confidently. “I may lose something in the actual doing, but I should be able to pull it off, so long as you and Byron can deliver on your parts.”
“Trust me,” Daggeuro said, once more drawing Boon and Bane from their sheaths, a death’s head smile spreading across his canine snout as he squared himself in the direction of The Chained One. “I can deliver. Byron, I shall await your signal,” he said, then started stalking away, his intent set. Byron sat down and gathered in his magical energy and focus, concentrating on precisely what it was he wanted to create. He drew out his pen and his deck of yellow cards, taking a blank and holding it tightly between thumb and forefinger in his left hand, eyes shut. Soldiers from the battalion had moved out of trained understanding to surround the humans, keeping them protected as they did what they needed to to bring the battle and the horror of The Chained One to an end.
After taking a good two minutes to center himself, Byron opened his eyes, which Kathy could see just by looking were no longer necessarily focused entirely in reality. Good, she thought, because what we want isn’t exactly from this world. Byron lowered his half-lidded eyes to the card, and wrote down what they needed.
Daggeuro spun and dive-rolled forward, avoiding another streak of green power sent from The Chained One, who flew here and there, dragging his ghostwood tree behind him, ripping into the ranks of combatants, both the kennin’s battalion and his own soldiers, without regard. Reserve specters and chain soldiers had begun moving into the village, regaining the advantage of numbers, but certainly not balancing things out. The Watch members who remained upright now were the longest-standing veterans, many of whom could stand their ground for a minute or two with Daggeuro in a sparring match. In realistic terms, that made them capable of facing down approximately eight to ten of The Chained One’s undisciplined, untrained troops.
Yet the apparition kept making things difficult for the battalion, despite having to fend off the magical blows and assaults of the wee folk. His power was vast and flexible enough to tend to all facets of the battle, but as The Chained One came near the west edge of Parik, he stopped, staring at a single warrior approaching. This one, The Chained One thought, this one killed Quintus. This one has the power of kings in his blood. Onward Daggeuro marched, Boon and Bane flicking out occasionally to cut the throat or belly of chain soldiers coming for him from his flanks, stabbing into the faces of those specters foolish enough to try and attack him once his focus was fixed on reaching The Chained One.
When Daggeuro was thirty yards away, he pointed Bane at the apparition hovering over the ground at the end of his binding chains. “Cassius Melchar,” he called out, leaving dormant the power of The Word of the Knight; it would do him no good against a creature like this.
“Hmmm, interesting,” rasped Melchar, lowering himself to the ground slowly, arms spread wide to his sides. “So, you know me by mine given name, warrior. I would know you in return. What is thy name?” Daggeuro twitched his legendary weapons for a moment, looking away at the carnage around him, the continued fighting going on in a ring around the once-peaceful village of Parik. He seemed to come to a decision, and looked to Melchar with his jaw set, eyes narrowed.
“I am Daggeuro, wielder of Boon and Bane,” he said, leaving off all of the other titles he usually listed prior to coming to the blades. “I am a soldier. I am a protector of this realm. I am the leader of these men and women who have chosen to serve and protect the citizenry of this kingdom. And you,” he snapped, jabbing Boon’s tip at the apparition, “you are a poison to be cut from this realm! You are a petty, would-be tyrant, one who should have been destroyed long ago, but who instead was bound and imprisoned.”
“And why did nobody do so when I was bound in that cave for so many centuries,” asked The Chained One, raising his arms overhead. The chains embedded in his back detached, except for two, from the ghostwood tree, flowing and floating around in the air like Medusa’s mythical hair of snakes behind him, the spear-like tips aimed always at Daggeuro as they wavered and hovered about. “I’ll tell you why- they couldn’t! My power is too vast for such, little doggy man! I am a god now!” Daggeuro, acting on impulse, kicked at a rock on the ground by his foot, watching it fly in a perfect arch at The Chained One, striking the dessicated creature on the shoulder, eliciting a grunt from it. Daggeuro snorted, shook his head.
“Gods don’t get hurt by rocks,” he said. Melchar howled with rage, and called down lightning from his hands, a streak of power lancing at the kennin even as he began moving aside, rolling and flinging Boon and Bane up and out to block incoming strikes from the chains coming after him. One of the heavy black iron chains struck true finally, and Daggeuro could feel two of his ribs break as he was flung aside by the power of the blow. Before he could even land on the ground, Cassius Melchar followed up the attack with a swirling blue fireball, which Daggeuro only partially defended against by swinging Boon into the path of the profane-aligned spell. He hit the ground at velocity as the leftover force of the spell drove him down into the dirt street, rolling sideways, his heavy plate armor clanging as he tumbled and came to a crouching finish, breathing hard as he held Boon and Bane ready at his sides.
The wee folk began buzzing around The Chained One, throwing their power in all of its forms at him. Melchar brought up his magical defenses, relying on his chains to continue his assault against Daggeuro and lesser attack spells, intended more to harass than harm. Daggeuro, not very skilled with the wielding of magic himself, was easily able to hold his ground against the undead menace so long as the wee folk kept up their assault, but all that was happening at the moment was a swirling stand-still, a stalemate that would only change in the event Daggeuro missed a beat. If not for the attention he drew away from the fairies, pixies and sprites, the wee folk would eventually be worn down. While they had the firepower to stand toe-to-toe with Cassius Melchar, he was undead, and as such required none of the rest or food that the wee folk did in order to keep going.
Daggeuro knocked aside another heavy chain swing and grinned, waiting for the signal to come from Byron and Kathy. He only needed wait for human ingenuity to bring about the coming victory, and hope that he could continue to survive long enough to see it.
The kennin had sent up his signal into the sky just before approaching The Chained One, moments after departing from Byron and Kathy’s side. They hadn’t understood what the light was that he’d thrown skyward, but councilman Stahg knew precisely what it was. He unleashed the magic he’d been building for close to an hour, flinging all of the wee folken he’d gathered to his troupe off toward Parik, most of them prepared to provide healing to the wounded members of Daggeuro’s battalion. But that wasn’t all they were coming for; Daggeuro’s instructions had been very specific.
After the battle waged between Watch forces and Luga the shade’s small army, residential morale had been in the gutter for a long time, until reconstruction neared completion. The kennin warrior knew that if a rural township like Parik was allowed to remain battered for more than a week, as it likely would, the whole thing would become little more than the ruined, haunted remains of a once-peaceful village of the kingdom. He didn’t want to have that on his conscience. So, healers weren’t the only reason Stahg was present; the people he’d brought with him would also be starting the rebuilding efforts as soon as the battle was over, provided they successfully repelled or defeated The Chained One.
The first signal had been seen, and the wee folken released. Now all he had to do was await the second signal, or wait until it was obvious that the battle was lost, the kennin warrior slain. The fellin councilman watched the sky, hoping for the next colored flare of light.
Byron stood back, looking up into the sky, hands on his hips. He was grinning, chuckling to himself contentedly and shaking his head slightly. Several soldiers from the battalion defending him and Kathy looked up with him, but they didn’t appear to get whatever it was he found so amusing. One elven swordsman, looking skyward, leaned over until his head was almost touching the human’s. “Sir, forgive me, but what amuses you so?”
“It’s so simple,” Byron replied, pointing to the various objects now winging away at low speed, each vibrating with a low hum, magical energy guiding their movements. “Really, we should have thought of something like this while we were on our way here.”
“Destiny delivers genius to those capable of it when the time is right,” said the swordsman, holding out his right arm so that a fairy could apply a healing spell to it, sealing a grievous gash that otherwise would have left him unable to wield his chosen weapon with anywhere near the sort of skill level he was capable of. “The gods chose to bring us the two of you humans when it seemed no other solution might have been enough to stand against yonder beast in the village ahead.” Byron nodded, looking down at Kathy, whose eyes were rolled up to their whites, her mouth set in a firm, straight line, shimmering white and green light flowing around her in a bubble of concentrated magical energy. Her hands were held down at her sides at an angle, as if she were holding the hem of an invisible skirt before offering a curtsy, fingers twitching.
“The gods, I suspect, had very little to do with it,” said Byron, preparing to send the first signal, for the wee folk. He pulled out the yellow index card, poured some of his magic into it, and tossed it aside, letting the jetpack-wearing penguin make a strange ‘waaark’ sound at him before sending it along its way. The elven swordsman did a double take, smiled at Byron, and went back off towards the battle. The Awakened man pulled out the card he would be using to give sign for Daggeuro to retreat, waiting for the penguin’s return.
Events were coming to a head, he could sense it. Soon, it ends, he thought.
Cassius Melchar, so far as an undead creature such as himself was able to form coherent thoughts, kept wondering how the hell a simple-looking kennin could be so fast, so fierce, and so physically strong. The warrior continued to block his attacking chains, bat aside his lower-powered spells, and dodge his most vicious strikes. No dog-faerie should have been so good, especially not in such bulky armor.
Something zipped past overhead, and suddenly the wee folk came on even stronger than before, battering at The Chained One’s magical shields and defenses with the fury of a thousand maddened spirits, pouring all of their energies into knocking him flat. Melchar, forced to spend all of his magical effort now on defending against the fairies, pixies and sprites, lashed out with every available chain at Daggeuro, who continued to prove too nimble to be struck true. But with so many tentacle-like attachments flapping about, the kennin couldn’t get in close for a strike.
That didn’t much matter to the High Knight, however. He caught the jetpack-wearing penguin, a strange aberration if ever he’d seen one, loop back around and take off back toward Byron and Kathy. Now he only needed his own sign, and it would be coming none too soon; he was starting to falter, even as the wee folk began breaking off in ones and twos to create their last little trick against The Chained One.
Byron chuckled as the penguin landed and poofed out of existence. The message was as he had hoped; with all of the tyrannical creature’s magical energies focused on the wee folk, and all of its physical efforts aimed at Daggeuro, it would be vulnerable to his and Kathy’s final act in this sordid business of warfare. He threw the second card aside, and Daggeuro’s signal, a shadow streaking across the ground in the kennin’s form, was away.
“Not long now, dearheart,” he said to Kathy.
“Good,” she replied. “This is starting to hurt my head.”
Daggeuro felt the tug on his leg, nodded and winked at the nearest wee folk, and they sprang their trick. The switch was flawless, unseen by the distracted undead creature. The Chained One lashed out at Sir Daggeuro with his chains, and continued to be evaded and eluded, though in truth, Sir Daggeuro was already fifty yards away when Melchar brought about his most savage attack yet.
Daggeuro allowed the concealing shadow magic to dissipate, standing on the atoll with Byron and Kathy. He looked out, using a bit of illusion magic to grant himself far-seeing ability. The Chained One continued to struggle against a shadow clone of Daggeuro and the full might of the wee folk, both those who had come with the battalion and the continually arriving support that councilman Stahg had brought. Hovering fifty feet over Cassius Melchar’s head hung a thousand arrows, each aimed right down at him, each ending in an arrowhead crafted entirely of C4 plastic explosive compound.
Byron Torg’s imagination hadn’t been pushed anywhere near its limits in conjuring them from a single card, though the magical energy required of him had been exhausting.
Holding so much destructive power in check, suspended over the raging battle between The Chained One and the wee folk, as well as the shadow clone, was pushing Kathy to her limits, however. Her nature wasn’t hostile or combative; bending her magic to purposes like this could be done, but never for very long. The kennin High Knight sheathed Boon and Bane, walking slowly over to her, putting one furry, strong hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. With his other hand he grabbed Byron, his arms draped paternally around the humans.
“This kingdom, and this Plane, owes you both a great debt,” he said, looking toward The Chained One.
Cassius Melchar could have sworn he saw one of his heavy, binding chains strike the kennin in the legs, but the warrior bound aside from a follow-up strike with the nimbleness of a cheetah. If the wee folk weren’t harassing him, the undead tyrant could just turn his considerable magical powers upon the kennin and reduce him to a blood stain on the grassy lawns of the village. Already he’d been forced to destroy half a dozen cottages in pursuit of the kennin, whose ability to flit from cover to cover seemed almost sorcerous.
A set of swirling blue fireballs struck Melchar from the right, and as he whirled about, he saw that almost the entire host of wee folk battling with him were hovering now only a few feet over the ground, near the town square. They glowed brightly, a shimmering wall of gold, silver and bronze lights flowing from them. While Melchar didn’t know precisely what they were up to, it looked like it would be overwhelming. The Chained One began feeding the entirety of his magical power, including that which he derived from absorbing the powers of Awakened humans, into a sweeping magical shield against whatever power they could bring. It would do nothing against physical assault, but with wee folk, he needn’t worry about such things, and the kennin seemed content to try and wear him down with evasions and defensive maneuvers.
Wait, Melchar thought, turning his eyes towards the kennin, whose stance wavered between defensive and dodging. This warrior is a kennin. They aren’t exactly known for their defensive nature. What is going on here? With his right hand outstretched toward the wee folk to hold his shield in place, the Chained One turned his body towards the kennin, lashing out with every single binding chain running out of his ruined back.
And they passed through the illusion, which smiled up at him like an imp. Of all of the powers that had been or could be employed against a monstrosity such as Cassius Melchar, an illusion should have been the last thing anyone would use. But it was also the one thing he would never have thought to be on the look out for, as vast as his power was.
“Game’s up, chief,” the shadow clone said, turning into black smoke around the edges. “Hope you enjoyed being so close to godliness all those years in the cave. Where you’re going, you won’t get to enjoy feeling nearly so powerful.” The Chained One howled impotently, swinging his chains out in a whirlwind of destruction all around. The physical shield the wee folk had been constructing blocked, then caught them, which brought Melchar’s attention around to them. He pulled away, or tried to, grunting, thrashing about.
He was still tugging when the arrows came crashing down. The first four found their mark in his chest and neck, and at first he was too stunned to even react. After a moment, as he pulled one out and peered at it, he sneered. “Arrows? Really? Is the best you can,” he said, looking skyward. His rotted eye sockets burned with a fierce yellow light as he whimpered, “Do?”
The remaining arrows came down, and the explosion would have wiped out everything within a ten mile radius, had the wee folk not put down a force dome to focus the destructive force, leaving no single cell of the creature remaining. Born Cassius Melchar in the Roman Empire, among the most powerful Awakened the Ether Plane had ever seen, turned into a tyrannical madman by his own power and avarice, transformed by his own twisted magic into an undead monster, the creature known as The Chained One was now less than dust, a memory only.
And it had only taken two humans and a hundred wee folk to pull it off.