Author Topic: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 3  (Read 369 times)

Offline Benionin

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The Darkest Hour, Chapter 3
« on: December 20, 2016, 05:25:42 PM »
The Darkest Hour
Table of Contents

Chapter 3.1: Relentless Pursuit/Unshakeable Stand

     There was a sense of urgency the following morning as we set out, marching at speed. Each of us knew that the sooner we caught up to the Sorceress, the sooner we defeated her, the better. There was also a sense that today was the day we would find the Verorians. So we did not stop when we encountered another campsite, or the pile of corpses slain by death spells, or the cairn of animal skulls that still flickered with a sickly purple glow. Mid-day came and went, but we did not stop our march, instead eating the last of our rations as we continued to pursue the Sorceress.
     After another hour of marching, we came across another open clearing and Gao Han finally called for a halt. He turned to one of our stone-callers. "How recent is this camp?"
     The caller knelt and placed a hand on the ground. "They left very recently. Perhaps even within the last hour."
     The Stalwart nodded. "Excellent. We'll make camp here, get some rest. Then we'll catch up with them just as they're setting up their evening camp. Send out foragers to replenish our supplies."
     "Should we fortify the position, sir?" the stone-caller asked.
     Gao Han considered for a moment, then shook his head. "No, you'll need your strength for the battle ahead. We'll only be here for an hour or so anyway."
     Each of us found our own way of resting up from the march. While some took naps and others meditated, I sat down and began to write down a record in my journal. I was engrossed with trying to explain and justify my decision to follow Gao Han instead of going home, struggling to find the proper words to convey how I had felt at the time.
     It was Jiro who, once again, was paying attention. He was up and shouting the alarm, his spear already in hand, before the first beast even emerged from the trees with a roar. The gray-skinned animal was immense, easily twice the height of any of us, and a long trunk trumpeted as it charged. Hastily grabbing my papers and inks, I lurched out of its path.
     Jiro watched the beast charge, waited until the exact last moment, and darted to the side while jabbing with his spear. The weapon scored a long and bloody gash down the beast's flank, and it roared in pain as it turned around.
     "Ancestors, do not abandon us in our time of need," I whispered, summoning two spirits to my side as more beasts emerged from the trees. Our foragers began to arrive back in the clearing, howling wolves right behind them.
     "Form up! Form up! Discipline and honor!" Gao Han shouted, summoning a suit of spirit armor as he wrestled with a snarling brown bear. With a savage punch the Stalwart sent the beast running back to the trees and he joined the protective ring that our meager force was beginning to assemble.
     The gray beast charged again, but this time it was met by a row of spears instead of a lone spearman. Unable to overrun the line, it retreated and nursed its wounds.
     For my part, I stayed behind the front lines, summoning spectral warriors and casting protective shields over our warriors. There were six other spirit-speakers with me and we were hard-pressed to defend our soldiers from the growing pack of wolves that constantly darted towards the weak points in our line.
     "Stick together and hold formation!" I shouted as all of the other beasts were forced away. "If you break off, you'll be dead. Discipline and honor!" Soon the furious battle slowed down to a standoff between our force and the pack of some twenty wolves. Even with our ancestral allies, the numbers were far too close to risk breaking formation to fight the wolves head on. So they circled around us and waited and we watched them circle and waited.
     Finally, Gao Han broke ranks and beat his chest. "Come and get me!" he shouted, striding away from the rest of us. Instantly, the wolves pounced. Five of them attacked the commander from all sides, but their teeth met only spirit armor while he struck them down with mighty blows. More wolves circled around, wary of the Stalwart after he slew five of their companions.
     "No, get me!" Jiro shouted, breaking ranks. I hurriedly summoned spirit armor around him as the wolves pounced once again. My friend began to slay the animals with his spear as more and more of our warriors boldly struck out and took the fight to the wolves. Outnumbered and unable to pick off those who had left the formation, the wolves howled and beat a hasty retreat.
     "They'll be back," Gao Han said. "How many wounded?"
     I quickly scanned our force. "Three men missing, two slain, seven wounded."
     He scowled. "Nearly half of our force." He turned to face where our healers were already starting to treat the wounded. "Can they walk?"
     Our head healer nodded. "Most of them can do so on their own, and those that can't can do so with a little help. All are safe to be moved."
     "Bury the dead. I don't know how much time we'll have before the beasts come back, so we'll need to be moving as quickly as possible."
     "But what of the missing?" I asked.
     "We have to assume that they've been killed. We've no time to search for them, and they'll be able to follow us if they're alive. Now move!"
     One of the stone-callers saw to the burial and then we were off, only slightly slowed down by the wounded. In the distance I heard the wolves howl again, but then we reached a steep gorge. To cross it, the Verorians had toppled a mighty tree with their death magic. Gao Han ordered our stone-callers to move the trunk and construct a bridge out of stone, then to remove the bridge. "That will buy us some time," he said, his face grim. Then we wordlessly returned to marching after the Sorceress.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2016, 10:59:28 PM by Benionin »
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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 3
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2016, 05:32:22 PM »
Interlude--Captain Hyeon

     She had always considered herself to be physically fit, capable of marching and fighting for days on end, of outlasting any opponent in any battle. But her time in that cramped cage combined with the fast pace that Mavuto had set, swapping between jogging on two legs and running on four, left Hyeon exhausted and ultimately unable to keep up. Matters were made worse by the seemingly impenetrable undergrowth, which somehow Mavuto navigated with ease while she struggled to tear herself free of every bramble and vine she encountered. Perhaps most humiliatingly, Hyeon sensed that her guide was attempting to keep to the easier trails.
     "Hyeon," the fox-man said impatiently as she stopped once again to catch her breath.
     "I'm sorry," she said, knowing that he couldn't understand her, "but I'm just too tired. I can't keep going like this."
     Mavuto growled and shook his head. There hadn't been too much time for them to talk even if they had been able to communicate using more than just gestures and names. For whatever reason, her companion was in a hurry.
     "I'm sorry," she repeated between breaths. "I need to stop." She stared at the ground, at her mud-covered feet, and squeezed her eyes shut.
Ancestors, grant me strength. Then suddenly the world lurched out from under her and she was moving again. Her eyes flashed open and she resisted the instinct to strike out, to struggle, to break free.
     Mavuto had picked her up and was carrying her over his shoulder as he continued to run south. Exhausted and finally relieved, Hyeon somehow fell asleep.
     When she woke, night had fallen. It was obvious that Mavuto had covered a vast distance without her slowing him down, for the constellations had shifted from where they had been farther north. Hyeon looked around cautiously.
     She was in a clearing around a campfire. Another man, a woman, Mavuto, another beast like him, and a leonine beast were sitting down, talking in some sort of language of growls. Sitting up, she cleared her throat. "Um, hello," she said. Silence immediately fell as everyone else turned their attention to her.
     The lion-like beast had a long, shaggy mane and a fierce gleam in his eye. His hand constantly strayed in the direction of the long blade at his belt--a sword for any human, it was just a dagger for him. Hyeon noticed that his eyes kept darting suspiciously towards the man.
     The other vulpine beast had a deep voice and a pair of parallel scars on his forehead. Over his shoulder, she saw the ornate hilt of a sword strapped to his back, and whenever he moved or spoke he seemed to do so with authority. The others all seemed to be deferring to him.
     The man was an oddity. His brown hair had grown long and wild, but his primal look seemed more affected than inherent. He smiled at her and spoke a string of words in some language she didn't understand, then frowned for just a second before the smile was back. Hyeon decided right away that she didn't trust him. Everything about him seemed like it had been recently adopted, from the way he sat to the few clothes that he wore. Even as he padded over towards her on all fours it seemed like something he had only recently learned to do, rather than something he had done for all his life. He wasn't from this world then, like her. But he wasn't from Reish either.
There must be even more worlds, she thought.
     The woman, on the other hand, seemed much more natural around the others. The beasts trusted her, which was a good sign. Hyeon couldn't shake the feeling that this woman was familiar in some way, but she ignored it. The woman's clothes were simple and she leaned against a long staff of green wood.
     "Hello," the man said, smiling, and she turned her attention back to him. He placed a hand on his chest. "Coyle."
     "I'm Hyeon," she said. "Your name is Coyle?"
     He nodded and gestured for her to keep speaking. She glanced at the beast like Mavuto, the one who carried himself like a leader, and he nodded.
     "I am Captain Hyeon of the Descendants of the Dragon. A portal opened up between our world, Reish, and this one. When word reached me of this, I took my detachment and set up a defensive position around the portal, trying to stop the corruption that has overrun much of our world from spreading to yours." She hung her head. "I failed, and was captured."
     "Word reach me of your world," Coyle said.
     "What? You have heard of my world?" He shook his head. "You mean that you want me to tell you of my world?" He nodded and her eyes narrowed. "Why?"
     He growled and began gesturing wildly, but she couldn't interpret what he was trying to say--let alone how he had come to learn the little of her language that he knew.
     "How did you learn my language?" she asked, and he sighed.
     "I learn your language when you tell me words," he said, wincing. "Corruption of that words."
     Hyeon shuddered. "So you mean to tell me that when I speak, you learn my language?" He nodded vigorously, smiling. "You're butchering the grammar, you know that?" He shrugged, smiling sheepishly, and she resisted the urge to slap him. "Barbarian," she muttered, and he laughed.
     "You call me a barbarian? Who's learning your language and trying to stop butchery?"
     The woman spoke again, and Coyle glanced back at her before replying. He shrugged, then closed his eyes and concentrated. He placed a hand on her shoulder and there was a jolt like an electric shock.
     "Can you understand me?" he asked, in that strange language Hyeon hadn't recognized. Surprisingly, she did.
     "What language is this?"
     "This is the language of my..." he hesitated, "home. Talich. A few days ago a rift opened between there and here and the two main powers, the Flame Dawn Empire and Genesis Industries, joined forces to conquer and exploit the natural resources of this world. I'm seeking... to stop the bloodshed."
     "At the very least," the vulpine leader said, "he's given us the tools to speak with the outsiders. My name is Hehkeem. People from your world are spreading an unnatural death to the north. Why?"
     "It is not my people who are killing your world," Hyeon said. "It is the Sorceress and her Cult. They are vile creatures who care only for their own power. Almost all of my world is a twisted and dead place because of them. They are my sworn enemies."
     Hehkeem smiled. "Very good. You must be strong to have held off this Cult when the rest of your world fell. The Warpath is eager to repel these death witches. Would you help us, Hyeon?" She nodded, finally smiling.
     The leonine beast stood. "My name is Shamba. It is a pleasure to meet you, Hyeon. You know Mavuto, but allow me to introduce you to the Caretaker, Aleta."
     Hyeon was in shock. Reeling, she fell over backwards before jumping to her feet, ancestral magic swirling around her fists. She lunged forward at the woman as the beasts reacted in shock. Then suddenly she was tackled from the side.
     "This isn't your Aleta," Coyle whispered as he held her down. "There's one on my world too. I don't know why. But this isn't the Sorceress."
     "What is the meaning of this?" Shamba roared, his blade drawn. "Why do you attack the Caretaker?"
     Coyle stood up, his palms out. "A case of mistaken identity, no more. She's learned. Right, Hyeon?"
     Hyeon dusted off her robes and stood. "Right." Shamba obviously wasn't convinced, but the others seemed satisfied--for now. In her own language, she said, "We need to talk."
     Coyle turned around. "Of course, we'll have to talk if I'm to learn your language and give it to the chiefs. I'm sure that there's much that you would like explained, as well."
     "Just to make one thing clear, I don't trust you."
     Coyle laughed. "Trust. It's a rarer and rarer commodity these days."
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Offline Benionin

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 3
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2016, 05:36:15 PM »
3.2

     Shortly before nightfall, we nearly stumbled upon the Verorians. Our only warning was the crackling sound of the death magic clearing the trees to make room for their evening camp. We immediately stopped and back-tracked, circling around the area.
     Gao Han knelt and began drawing in the dirt, his voice low. "This is their campsite. Hills arise on either side, effectively turning the camp into a canyon. I need a stone-caller to circle around and create a gorge on the far side, where they'll continue tomorrow. Jie, I'm leaving it to you. That's the trap. We'll split our group in two, positioning them on the hills here and here. When I give the signal, we'll sweep down into the camp, using surprise to make up for our lack of numbers and driving the cultists into the gorge while the darkness makes it hard to see. They'll fall to their deaths, and with any luck we can seal the Sorceress underground.
     "It's important that they not know about the trap," he went on, standing up and dusting off his knees. "If they think they'll have a way out, a place to run to instead of fighting, they will. Once they realize that they're cornered, they'll become desperate and twice as dangerous. But if we can keep them in the dark, if we can trick them into thinking they can escape, that won't happen. Okay, let's split up. I'll command the group on the west hill. Wen, I'm putting you in charge of the east side."
     "Yes, sir!" I said.
     "I'll use a spirit flare as a signal. It's going to be tough to navigate the forest in the darkness, so I'm giving it two hours until I launch the attack. That should be sufficient time for our stone-caller to travel to the other side of the camp and work his magic. Let's move!"
     I quickly realized that numbers were going to be a huge issue. I had eight soldiers under my command--nine, counting myself--and three of them had been wounded in the earlier fight with the beasts.
     "Honored ancestors," I whispered, concentrating on my magic, "if ever there was a time when we needed your aid, it is now. We are tired, we are weary, we are wounded and worn. In the storm of battle this night, fight by our side. Guide us and protect us as we strike back against those who would quell all light. Please, we need your aid. If we are victorious this night, we may never have to call upon you again."
     I sense the spirits all around us, but most of them were alien, native to this world. They refused to heed my call--probably didn't understand anything I said. But there were other spirits, our own ancestors who had followed us from Reish. All around us, they began to materialize. When all was said and done, I counted ten glowing blue spirits armed with mystical blades floating gently by our sides.
     I sweated from the difficulty of summoning them. So far from Jinhai, they seemed to resist my call. There were fewer of them than at the Wall, and it was almost as if the other spirits were actively suppressing the ancestors. Summoning spectral armor or calling upon their strength to empower your blows is easy, but summoning them directly to battle has always been the most difficult task.
     "Thank you," I gasped, catching my breath and placing my hand on the ground to steady myself. "Thank you."
     They bowed, and together we waited. I had lost track of time during the summoning process, and soon enough the sun was completely set and the only light came from the stars and the glowing spirits. Then, from the top of the other hill, I saw a flash of bright blue light. A spirit flare.
     "That's the signal," I said, "let's move. From Discipline cometh Strength."
     "From Strength cometh Honor!" the other warriors shouted. Then we charged.
     To say that we charged sounds glorious. I myself conjure images of streaming banners and blowing trumpets, of noble warriors astride powerful horses. I think of the ground thundering beneath their feet and the enemy trembling before them. Our charge was none of these things.
     First of all, we had no trumpets, no banners, and certainly no horses. We barely had the numbers to launch an attack, let alone those to make the very ground shake. And most importantly, we found our charge almost immediately broken by the abundant foliage that permeated this world. I would run three steps and then have to extricate myself from a bush. Next to me Jiro would have to pick himself up after slipping on some moss, or tripping on a root, or running into a tree. The only ones who didn't have trouble were the spirits--after all, they just floated through the obstacles.
     But then we were through the trees and onto the area the cultists had cleared for their camp. On the other side I saw Gao Han's force burst through the trees, yelling warcries as they charged. A cultist stumbled out of her tent at the noise and rubbed her eyes, unable to believe what she was seeing.
     The Descendants of the Dragon were attacking.
     Jiro beheaded the cultist with the blade of his spear while I grabbed a log from a smoldering campfire and tossed it on one of the tents, lighting it on fire. Everywhere the camp was waking up, with Verorians shouting in alarm and our warriors shouting challenges as they rushed through. Dozens of thralls were hastily thrown at us only to be cut down by our men as our spectral allies faced off against grotesque brutes, enslaved and mutated by the Verorians for their own twisted purposes.
     The trap was working. Even as we cut through their thralls and brutes, the cultists fled from us, the death spells thrown in our direction meant only to cover their retreat. Seeing a line of cages, I rushed to them while our warriors advanced. Ancestral strength aided me as I pried open the bars, allowing one prisoner after another to escape.
     "Thank you," one gasped as he climbed out of the cage. He placed a hand on my shoulder to steady himself. "Thank you."
     "Where is Captain Hyeon?" I asked, glancing towards the main body of the battle.
     The monk shook his head. "Gone. Escaped. A beast grabbed her cage and ran off a day ago."
     I wasn't paying attention. Just beyond our force was an enormous tent with two smaller tents beside it. The flap to the large tent was thrown open and standing there, backlit by purple flames, was the Sorceress. I saw her survey the carnage we were wreaking upon her camp as calmly as could be, then cast a death spell that tore one of our men in half before anyone could react. Her lips parted in a small smile, then she threw another spell at our soldiers.
     Summoning a wall of spirit armor, Gao Han blocked the blow. Rolling his shoulders, he strode forward to confront the Sorceress.
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Offline Benionin

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 3
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2016, 05:40:15 PM »
Interlude--Xu

     The Wall seemed lonelier without the twenty-five who had gone. He wondered, not for the first time, if the Council had made the correct choice, ordering them back to Jinhai. If he had, obeying them. But Xu was not easily shaken from his convictions, and he knew that abandoning his post in haste was a foolish endeavor, subject to failure.
     "When you're in a hurry," he whispered, one hand resting gently on the wall, "that's when mistakes happen."
     "Still brooding?" Jeong-Ho asked.
     Xu shrugged. "It all happened too fast. Gao Han pushed too hard and the Council called him to heel for it. I am sorry that the Stalwart is gone."
     "And sorrier that we are lying about him to the Council?" Jeong-Ho finished.
     Xu nodded. "That too. This entire affair seems like a waste that could have been avoided. If we had taken more time to prepare, if Captain Hyeon's force hadn't been overrun, if, if, if." He sighed. "No matter. Stone will be stone, no matter how you wish it otherwise."
     Jeong-Ho laughed. "That's your response?"
     Xu nodded.
     Jeong-Ho's smile faded and he looked around the Wall. "Listen," he whispered. "Some of the men are planning on telling the Sages the truth."
     Xu frowned. "We all agreed that it would be better to leave their honor intact. They've been banished. They're likely already dead. They're already dead to us and to the Council. If we say that they died, we save their families the dishonor and embarrassment. We agreed on this. Even the Sages must respect the wisdom in it. No good comes from exposing their disobedience, and no harm comes from granting them honorable deaths."
     "I know, I know. But some of the men are starting to have second thoughts."
     Xu pondered for a few minutes, Jeong-Ho waiting patiently. Finally, the stone-caller spoke. "The lie requires all to take part."
     "Not if we can convince the Sages, Xu," Jeong-Ho said, a spark kindling in his eyes.
     "What do you mean?"
     "You said it yourself: even the Sages must respect the wisdom in the deception. Think about it: if we get to the Sages first and tell them why they should proclaim the Stalwart dead instead of banished, they just might listen. Otherwise, all it takes is for one man to get second thoughts or crack under pressure and all of us are in trouble for lying under oath."
     "It's risky," Xu muttered, scratching his chin.
     "Xu, you say that about everything that requires quick action," Jeong-Ho pointed out. "Doesn't the
Art of Defense say that when the time has arrived for action it must be undertaken swiftly and decisively?"
     "Jiro loves that quote, but he forgets that there is a time to defend and a time to attack. Is now such a time, to strike quickly?"
     Jeong-Ho nodded. "I'll see if I can find a good scribe. If I can't, I'll travel to Xia Han in person."
     Xu nodded and turned his gaze towards the wastes. There was a small cloud of dust moving towards the Wall. "Exiles or Cultists?" he asked, absent-mindedly tapping out a rhythm on the battlements.
     Jeong-Ho didn't even bother looking. "Exiles. Guaranteed."
     "You sound confident," Xu noted, and Jeong-Ho laughed. Drawing back his bow, he fired at the dust cloud. A moment later, there was a feral howl. Xu nodded. "Good call, friend." The stone-caller calmly walked over to a bell and rang it, sounding the alarm.
     Within minutes, the approaching column of Exiles had reached the Wall. By that same time, the Wall was lined with soldiers. Archers fired a volley of arrows into the midst of the corrupted devils, striking them down with ease.
     A larger, overly-muscled beast grabbed a smaller creature and hurled it at the walls. To Xu's left, a spirit-speaker crafted a layer of spirit armor in the air, deflecting the devil-turned-projectile. The plump creature fell towards the earth with a pitiful wail, before hitting the ground and exploding in a burst of fire and dust. A hot wind raced over the battlements, stirring the banners.
     Xu sent his magic down into the Wall, using it as an extension of his own senses. He felt a group of devils begin to climb their way up and made a fist. With a lurch, a section of the Wall burst forth, throwing the devils into the distance. Then, slowly, Xu drew the stone back to its former position. When he was done, there was no evidence of his handiwork.
     The Exiles were in disarray now, scrambling about the base of the Wall aimlessly while archers continued to snipe at them. Twenty soldiers armed with spears trotted to a sally port. With a rumble, the small gate open and the soldiers charged out, routing the devils quickly, efficiently, and with only the most minimal of casualties. Xu nodded with satisfaction as the band of Exiles was wiped out and the soldiers returned to the Wall, closing the sally port behind them.
     "I've reached a decision," Jeong-Ho said, tapping the stone-caller on his shoulder. "I'm making my way to Xia Han."
     Xu nodded as he whisked past, disappearing into the crowd. "From Discipline cometh Strength, friend."
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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 3
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2016, 05:47:27 PM »
3.3

     "Sorceress!" Gao Han roared, swatting aside a brute like a fly. "This ends now!"
     Aleta merely smiled, circles of magical runes beginning to fill the air. There was a crackle of purple lightning and suddenly five of our soldiers were dead, struck down by her death magic. She clenched her fist and three spirits winked out of existence.
     Our charge ground to a halt.
     The cultists rallied around her like sick moths to a twisted flame, casting their death spells with glee in her shadow. Thralls were hurled forward no longer as sacrifices but with purpose, to distract and overwhelm us. The rout had ended and now they were standing firm around their leader.
     I have to admit, I didn't expect the Verorians to have that kind of guts.
     Gao Han stamped his feet and spirit armor formed around all of us, deflecting a volley of death magic that would have otherwise finished us off. "Discipline, Strength, and Honor!" he shouted, and the Stalwart charged once more.
     "There's only a few of them!" Jiro shouted as he sliced through two unfortunate thralls and sidestepped a bolt of purple lightning. I looked back at the Verorians and realized that he was right. Only seven women stood by Aleta.
     "Ancestor, see thy foe and strike her down," I murmured, pointing at one of the cultists. With a sudden shriek, she fell to the ground, a glowing blue spirit ripping her apart from the inside. The other cultists quickly destroyed the spirit, but their numbers were one fewer.
     While the rest of us fought our way through the dwindling number of thralls and brutes, Gao Han reached Aleta. One of the cultists rushed forward to stop him, aether flowing around her hands, but with a single blow from his fist she crumbled to the ground.
     Another cultist with long, dark hair and glasses panicked, backpedaling and throwing multiple lightning blasts at Gao Han that merely scratched his glowing armor. Whispering a spell, I quietly added another layer to his wards.
     Behind Gao Han, Jiro and the other warriors began to slaughter the last of the thralls and brutes, well-timed spears ending their miserable lives. A masked cultist near Aleta snarled and stabbed a dagger into a thrall that was running past her in terror. Lifting him up by the dagger, she ripped him apart with her magic and summoned a small demon from the aether. The flying creature's eyes burned with hatred and it dove at Jiro.
     I watched my friend duck under the monster's claws and jab at it with his spear, but the demon danced out of reach, leathery wings carrying it away into the sky. It dove again, shrieking horribly. Every single soldier instinctively clamped their hands to their ears and the demon howled in triumph as it picked up one of our men, tossing him into the sky. He screamed as he fell, flung into the forest.
     Ignoring the rest of the battle, I concentrated on the demon. Spectral power glowed around my fists and I began to mutter the words of a spell. Sighting me, the demon dove, once again shrieking that ear-splitting shriek. I paid the sound no heed and when the demon came within reach I leaped, striking it with a mighty blow empowered by the strength of my ancestors. It fell from the sky, snarling and hissing in pain as I bore down on it.
     The demon struggled to get to its feet and take off again, but I landed another blow to its chest, knocking it back down. Ignoring the scything claws as they bounced off of a layer of spirit armor, I straddled the monster and seized its screaming skull. I twisted and its neck snapped, then the foul creature went limp.
     As I looked up, Aleta unleashed another massive spell. If not for the spirit armor that Gao Han cast over us at the last second, we all would have been slain. As it was, we were knocked back from the Verorians and injured, our strength sapped by the magic. A blast of heat overtook us and we scrambled for cover. I threw up my arm to protect my face and immediately felt it blister.
     When next I looked up, the Sorceress had fled.
     Gao Han was already on his feet. "She's getting away," he said, breathing heavily. "Let's move!"
     I hauled myself up, wincing. All around me, the other soldiers were doing the same--even those captured by the Sorceress and only recently freed. I looked at them. They were bruised, burnt, battered, and weakened. They had just fought--and defeated--a force far larger than their own.
     We were in no condition to keep fighting.
     "Sir," I said, "we can't."
     Gao Han turned to look at me, fire in his eyes. "What do you mean? She's getting away!"
     "Sir, look at us. Look at us! How many of us are left? How many of us are in any condition to go on? We have wounded, sir!"
     Gao Han glanced at the men, then back at the trail the Sorceress had left, then back at us. The fire faded from his eyes and the weariness began to show. "We've come so far," he said. "We can't just let her escape."
     "And we won't," I said, more confident than I felt. "We'll track her down again and defeat her again. Next time she won't have people to throw at us and buy her time to escape. Next time we'll be prepared and she will not get away. But now, we need to rest."
     Gao Han looked at us. We were all standing, if only barely. We were all ready to move, even if we had to crawl. If he said the word, we would follow him to the end of the world. "How many of you are ready to fight?" he asked.
     "I am," Jiro shouted, throwing up a salute. Suddenly there was a chorus of men insisting upon their readiness.
     I shook my head. "Sir, if you ask it, we will march to our deaths. But I'm begging you, do not ask this of us. We have wounded, we have dead. We need to rest and recover. She won't be able to make it back to the rift today. Let's treat our wounded, bury our fallen, and rest before we continue."
     Gao Han ground his teeth. "Wen, I trust you. Everyone else is telling me they're ready to fight. Are they?"
     "No, sir. If we chase the Sorceress right now, we will all die."
     He sighed and clenched his fists, then looked at the trail. He turned his gaze heavenwards, looking at the stars. And then he sighed again. "Make camp," he said, "and someone go see if Jie's alive. We'll need his help fortifying this mess." He clenched his fists once again. "Damn, I want to chase that [redacted so Gao Han's mother doesn't die of shock] down. Wen, I'm trusting you on this. Damn." He kicked the corpse of a thrall. "Someone clean this filth up."



And here's chapter 3. You MtG fans may have noticed Gao Han's Surrak impression.
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Offline belial12

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 3
« Reply #5 on: December 21, 2016, 01:26:37 AM »
SO HYPED!