Author Topic: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue  (Read 550 times)

Offline Benionin

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The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« on: January 11, 2017, 03:59:21 PM »
The Darkest Hour
Table of Contents

Chapter 6.1: The Darkest Hour/Our Finest Hour

     Gao Han's command tent was somber. Captain Hyeon, the Stalwart, Mavuto and I were there. "Wen," Gao Han asked pacing, "how many soldiers do we have left?"
     "Fifteen," I gulped. "Counting the beasts."
     "This position is untenable," the Stalwart muttered, "but it was never meant to be held." He straightened and slammed his fist into his palm. "Damn it all! There's no point in us staying here. And we need to make sure that those soul-trapped monsters don't make it to Reish."
     "So are we going to fall back to the rift?" Captain Hyeon asked.
     Gao Han nodded. "We'll need reinforcements if we are to hold it."
     "But what about my world?" Mavuto growled. "Will you abandon it to protect your own?"
     "Mavuto," Hyeon said, "it's not that simple. Without more fighters we cannot seek these soul-trapped monsters out, and burying them is only a temporary solution. Who knows how long it will take them to escape the tomb that we have turned this encampment into? Days? Weeks? Months? Once we get more soldiers and figure out a way to permanently deal with the soul-trapped, we will help you cleanse your world."
     "When I came here," Gao Han said, "this world was unblemished. I would see it stay that way."
     Mavuto nodded. "Very well then."
     "Wen, open a link to Xia Han," Gao Han ordered. "Hyeon, if you could help him? The spirits are becoming harder to summon, the magic more difficult. Even my spirit armor is less powerful than it is in Jinhai."
     Soon enough, the ritual was complete and three glowing orbs floated in front of us.
     "Honored Sages," Gao Han began, "I have news of the unblemished world."
     "Well, well, well," laughed a voice. "If it isn't the Stalwart, back from the dead. The prodigal son does indeed return."
     Gao Han ignored the jibe. "We pursued the Sorceress into this world and fought several battles with her. Although we were unable to capture the Sorceress and she managed to escape through another rift back to Reish, her retinue was nearly destroyed and we believe that her power base within Veroria itself has been severely shaken."
     "You went through all of that trouble, threw everything away, and failed to stop the Sorceress? Pathetic, Commander."
     The Stalwart clenched his fists. "Honored Sages, there is far more at stake here. Even now an undead horde of soul-trapped monsters is heading towards Reish and Jinhai. My force managed to hold off a small portion of this horde last night, albeit barely. I aim to take my warriors and hold the rift, but I need more soldiers. I have only 15 after the battles that we have gone through here, and that includes the locals who we have secured as allies. We need more soldiers if we are to hold."
     "None can be spared from the Wall, Commander," a different, calmer voice said. "After your decision to abandon your post and ignore a direct order, attacks by the Exiles and the Cult have only increased. Our forces have been stretched thin as it is."
     "If you will not help me hold the rift," Gao Han snarled, "then at the very least listen to what I have to say. These monsters cannot be killed. The best solution my men have been able to come up with is to have stone-callers bury them belowground, but even that is only a temporary measure as they are clawing their way out. I don't know how long it will be before they unbury themselves, but it's all that we have."
     "Very well, Commander. We will take that into consideration." There was a pause, and I thought the sages were going to close off the link. "Oh, and by the way, you and all of your men have been reported honorably dead against the Cult of Verore. Should you return... there would be much explaining to do."
     The orbs flickered out of existence.
     "Well," I said, hoping to break the tension, "I wonder who convinced them to report us dead instead of deserted?"
     No one smiled, no one laughed.
     "Mavuto, gather your beasts. See if you can round up any more along the way. We're going to the rift. Wen, prepare the men."
     It didn't take long to break camp. Soon enough we were marching back the way we came. Back to Reish. And, without reinforcements, to certain death.
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Offline Benionin

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2017, 04:02:33 PM »
Interlude--Karani

     The dreams hadn't made much sense, at first. A sense of imminent danger. An offer of help. The Prophet Karani had struggled to interpret these signs. But as time went on, things became clearer.
     The deathless were the danger. Word had spread from the north that Hehkeem had fallen to them, leaving the Warpath leaderless but for the Caretaker. An alliance had been struck with the Talich-outsiders, but they were untrustworthy. The Descendants of the Dragon seemed more reliable, but their resources were limited. None could stand before the deathless hordes and live.
     But the offer of aid was clear, now. A way to fight the deathless, a force that could be trusted to cleanse the realms of this unnatural death. Karani couldn't answer who, or how, but she knew where. There was a mighty crater near the center of the world. The dreams called it the epicenter of the Calamity, though those words meant little to the Prophet.
     She knew what she had to do.
     Entering Aleta's grove, the leonine knelt. "Caretaker, I bring news."
     "Of Shamba and his pack?"
     Karani shook her head. "No, Shamba is still with the Talich-outsiders. I bring news of a way to end this, to purge the world of the deathless."
     Aleta guided Karani to her feet. "I'm listening," she said, smiling.

     The journey to the epicenter was fraught with danger. Accompanied by a group of vulpines, proud warriors eager to avenge Hehkeem's death, Karani and Aleta fought their way north, then east, seeking only to reach their destination.
     Many vulpines died on the way.
     Karani's visions and dreams continued, and she could tell that they were being sent. The sender called herself Lilariah. She told Karani what she would have to do, but Karani had no compunctions. No second thoughts, no doubts.
     She was going to save a world, many worlds.
     When they arrived at the epicenter, only Aleta and Karani remained. It was a frantic, hard-fought push to the center of the crater, but Karani fought as though in a daze, hardly paying attention as Aleta saved her life again and again.
     When they reached it, Karani held up a ritual dagger. "I entrust myself to the Overseers of Solace!" she cried. "Let them cleanse this world and bring peace!" Then she plunged the dagger into her own heart, a living sacrifice.
     There was a flash of brilliant white light, a pillar burning into the sky. Aleta turned away, blinded. When she looked back, Karani was no more. Instead, gates of shining metal and marble stood at the epicenter, and slowly rumbled open.
     Truly, Karani had given her life as a sacrifice to save us all.
     Angels flooded out of the gate, their guns blazing as they began to purge the world of undead. They took to the skies in formations and set out in various directions even as others began to fortify the gate and columns of wingless angels marched forth on the ground.
     As Aleta watched, an angel alighted next to her. "My name is Lilariah," she said, extending a hand to the immortal. "I can assure you, we will honor Karani's sacrifice. We will save the worlds from this plague out of Avarrach."
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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2017, 04:06:39 PM »
6.2

     Mavuto's scouts were tracking the horde's movements. We couldn't figure out why, but they were moving towards the rift, paying no attention to anything in their path. Hills, ravines, dense woods, nothing forced them to deviate from their course, and even the most inhospitable of terrain only slowed them down.
     The race was on. The horde was splitting up, strung out as different groups progressed at various speeds. We marched, doing our best to outpace them, following Aleta's cleared death-trail. We had to outpace the soul-trapped. We had to beat them to the rift.
     Our world depended on it.
     There were eight of us left, but Mavuto had managed to gather two score beasts of various breeds--mostly vulpines like himself, but there were members of the ursine tribe as well, swift moving if small bears that he promised us would be fearsome if enraged. It was these small bears who were tracking the horde, their haste allowing them to follow and return to us to report on the soul-trapped's progress.
     "Nigh on fifty against an undying, unrelenting horde. What could possibly go wrong?" Jiro muttered as me marched at double-time.
     "Discipline," I responded mechanically, focusing on breathing. We were being pushed to the limits of our endurance--would we even be able to fight once we reached the rift? I shook the question aside.
     We marched on.
     Mavuto's scouts reported that the fastest members of the horde, the vanguard of undead, were already passing through the rift. Then another group. They were relatively small, fortunately, but they were still getting through.
     We arrived just as a third group was going through. The stone-callers leapt to work and dealt with most of the group and we began to fortify the area, dropping our gear and taking up positions. Mavuto's beasts made up most of the perimeter, while we took up defensive positions around the stone-callers, who were key to the battle's success. They rested from their exertion as the scouts returned.
     "Alright, listen up," Gao Han yelled. "Our allies tell us that the next group of soul-trapped monsters is on their way. They expect a hundred, and stress that this is only a smaller force. Our job is to keep them back while the stone-callers do their work. From Discipline cometh Strength!"
     "From Strength cometh Honor!" we all roared in response, including Coyle. Seven people never sounded so loud, and my chest swelled with pride. Even if the council of sages had abandoned us, we would stand and fight the Jinhai way to protect our world.
     Then they came. A hundred humanoid soul-trapped creatures, lumbering towards us. The stone-callers dealt with the first twenty before they even reached our ranks, and then the battle was joined. Mavuto's vulpine warriors formed a line of spears that kept them back while the smaller bears dropped from above, roaring in rage.
     As they tore into the soul-trapped, I understood what Mavuto had meant when said they were dangerous if enraged.
     The stone-callers continued their work, laboring away with the stress of working so much magic so quickly. We watched, Gao Han and I guarding the beasts of the front line as best as we could with spirit armor. But the spirits didn't like being around the soul-trapped, making the magic difficult.
     Mavuto's beasts bore the brunt of the assault, and by the time all of the creatures had been cleared away twenty of them had fallen. We dusted ourselves off, gave the stone-callers a rest, and prepared for the next group.
     Then we heard the sound of beating wings. My initial reaction was to scan the skies for threats and ready defensive magic, for on Reish wings meant one thing: demons. But there were no demons in these skies. These were... angels?
     Seeing us, the angels descended from the skies and landed just outside of our formation. One of them, a leader, strode forward. The beasts parted ranks until he reached our center. He bowed, his wings tucked neatly behind his back as he did so. The skin-tight suit he wore was white with black lines going up and down the side in unusual patterns, and at his side were holstered two weapons of a strange design.
     "My name is Heimdall," he said, still bowed. "I come as a representative of the Overseers of Solace. Our main force is dealing with a more serious incursion of the undead to the south, but I have been dispatched to help hold the rift here."
     "I am Gao Han, the Stalwart. Along with Mavuto of the Warpath I am in command here. Thank you for your assistance, Heimdall. Tell me, are you aware of the size of the horde coming this way?"
     He stood up straight and nodded. "They number in the hundreds."
     "Then you're aware that we'll need far more assistance than just... twenty of your men?"
     The angel bristled. "My wing is one of the finest. Each of my warriors is capable of decimating the Sleepers before they even approach this rift. Twenty will be enough, and I'm sure that Sol will send more as soon as the southern incursion is dealt with."
     "Forgive me if I'm not swayed by promises of reinforcements," Gao Han said. "More to the point, we know of no way to permanently kill the soul-trapped. The best my soldiers have been able to do is bury them underground, with the understanding that eventually they will crawl their way back to the surface. This has become very difficult."
     Heimdall patted the weapons at his hips. "With these, you'll never have to worry about the Sleepers again."
     Captain Hyeon stepped forward. "Heimdall, I am Captain Hyeon. I have noticed that your angels have the ability to fly. Do you think you could harry the horde as it approaches, whittle down its numbers?"
     "Astute observation, Captain. If Commander Gao Han will allow me, I will do just that, returning before they arrive to take up defensive positions."
     "Very well," Gao Han said. "Is that acceptable to you, Mavuto?"
     The beast nodded. "The more these angels can do, the fewer of my people will die. Word has reached me from the south--my tribe has been nearly wiped out by these deathless monsters." He clenched his fist. "They will pay for the death they have wrought, especially that of Hehkeem."
     The beasts howled in approval.
     Heimdall bowed before extending his wings and taking off. "I shall return," he promised. "I am a protector, much like you, Stalwart."
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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2017, 04:09:33 PM »
Interlude--Xu

     The 23rd Garrison gathered on its local parade ground to greet its new commander. Some of the Garrison still missed Gao Han, and felt that any replacement would fail to match up to his honorable legacy. Nevertheless, with the Stalwart gone someone had to command, and they certainly needed reinforcement.
     The arrival of the 147th Garrison force and transfer of command to its leader was, from all indications, going to be a busy day. The 147th had swept in quickly and begun rearranging the barracks while the 23rd was summoned to the parade ground.
     Their new commander bore a long blade and had a fearsome beard. Jeong-Ho nudged Xu as they watched him pace and stroked his chin in mock seriousness. The new commander came to a stop and glared at him.
     "Soldier," he demanded, "what is your name?"
     "Jeong-Ho, archer of the Wall, sir!" the archer rattled off with a smile on his face. "Pleasure to serve."
     The new commander merely growled and returned to pacing, clearly unenthused. Finally, he stopped. "My name is Commander Liand, the Fearless. The loss of Commander Gao Han is unfortunate, but I hope to make up for his absence. I bring word from Xia Han of a new threat coming from beyond the rift that you had earlier discovered under the Stalwart's command. These soul-trapped monsters cannot be killed, only buried by stone-callers. They are predicted to reach the Wall near our position.
     "Our duty is to defend the Wall and bury these foul aberrations until such a time as a permanent solution to them can be discovered. Soldiers, your job is to line the battlements and keep the creatures from surmounting the Wall. Stone-callers, you are to dispose of any and all of the soul-trapped on the ground. Spirit-speakers, provide support and spirit armor. Stand without fear in the face of the enemy. From Discipline cometh Strength!"
     "From Strength cometh Honor!" the combined garrison roared, and Liand nodded with a smile.
"Very well, to your posts!"
     The monsters arrived that afternoon. Xu watched the dust cloud of their approach grimly. "Do you suppose," he said idly to Jeong-Ho, "that this means Wen and the others are dead?"
     The archer nodded grimly, his characteristic smile gone as he strung his bow. "Gao Han would never let such monsters through the rift while he drew breath. Perhaps he was gone, chased the Sorceress far away. But I suspect that they're all dead by now. If not, they soon will be."
     Xu paused. "I'm going to miss Jiro's impetuosity."
     Jeong-Ho laughed. "That's what you'll miss?
     Xu chuckled, his shoulders shaking with the deep rumble of his laughter. "Well, he was always a counterpoint to my own caution. I like to think that we balanced each other out. Besides, it's good to have a spearman by your side in times like these. Jiro wouldn't be cowed by whatever has come through that rift."
     The dust cloud rumbled closer, reaching the base of the wall. Concentrating, Xu took a deep breath and centered himself, delving into his magic. Liand's voice rang out across the battlements. "Show no mercy! Show no fear! For Jinhai!"
     Jeong-ho's bow twanged, picking off one of the creatures as they began to climb. The other archers joined in as the few remaining stonecallers began to work. It was a mechanical battle against an unrelenting foe. After twenty minutes, it was over and they had a brief respite before another wave approached.
     Xu didn't think about his friends who had gone with Gao Han then, or about the world they had tried to protect. He didn't think of the fate of Captain Hyeon, no doubt abandoned to the depravities of the cultists, or of those lost in the wastes. He didn't think of Jiro, of Wen, of his comrade Jie. After all, he was like stone, and stone doesn't cry. Not a drop.
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Offline Benionin

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2017, 04:19:38 PM »
6.3

     "Get ready!"
     The angels flew overhead and wheeled about before landing in our midst, their 'lightcasters' glowing from recent discharges. In front of us was Mavuto's phalanx, while we few remaining monks held the center.
     "Commander Gao Han," Heimdall said, saluting, "we managed to harry the oncoming Sleepers and thin their numbers to about half their initial size. Soon they will be upon us."
     On cue, the soul-trapped lumbered out of the trees and into the clearing, the orange lights twinkling maliciously from their bodies. Heimdall wheeled about and fired his weapon, issuing a beam of light that flared forward and disintegrated one of the monster's torsos. It fell and did not rise, the lights in its body extinguished.
     "Spread out!" the angel shouted to his soldiers, and the twenty beings obeyed his command, interspersing themselves through our formation and laying down a withering fire of light and purification. The approaching horde stumbled and slowed in the face of their assault, then seemed to right itself and charge again.
     Mavuto roared and his beasts roared in turn, leveling their spears at the oncoming monsters and baring their teeth. Lights flashed constantly from the angels' weapons, making the night like day.
     "Discipline, Strength and Honor!" Gao Han shouted, stamping his foot and casting a veil of spirit armor over the bestial phalanx.
     "For Jinhai!" Jiro yelled, and then all was confusion. The monsters fell upon Mavuto's beasts and the packleader roared instructions, the line barely holding while the angels unleashed more and more fire. Two stonecallers slammed their fists together and the ground swallowed a group of maybe twenty of the soul-trapped who were encroaching upon our flank, but they didn't stop coming.
     There were always more.
     I cast an added layer of spirit armor over the beast at the left end of the phalanx as monsters threatened to overwhelm him, hoping to buy him more time. An angel turned and opened fire, but to no avail. The beast fell with a howl, his spear useless at such close range.
     And as soon as he fell the entire phalanx simply shattered, a chain reaction rolling up the line as the soul-trapped seemed to leap forward with renewed vigor, sensing the kill. I watched Mavuto snap his spear in half and wield it as a sword as the discipline broke down and close-quarters fighting ensued.
     Suddenly Captain Hyeon was next to him, fending off soul-trapped monsters with fists swirling with jade magic. Mavuto towered over her and she was able to easily duck under the wide swings of his arms, striking quickly at opponents too close for him to deal with. They fought in perfect harmony, not even speaking to each other as his feral strength and her brutal precision held off the foe.
     Then I could pay them no more heed as I was engulfed in a battle of my own. Jiro whirled and jabbed with his spear to hold off the soul-trapped and keep them away from the stone-callers, and I focused all of my attention on keeping my brash friend alive. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an angel calmly shooting the soul-trapped in the head as they swarmed around him, until they finally dragged him down and he cried out in panic.
     Heimdall whirled at the sound and leapt forward, his wings propelling him through the air in a spin and to the site of his fallen comrade as he unleashed a flurry of blasts, clearing the monsters away and revealing the downed angel.
     The angel's arm was corrupted, and he looked up in despair. "Kill me now," he said, he begged.
Heimdall shook his head. "I can't spare you soldier. You still have your other arm. Until this day is over, you will fight with it."
     The angel looked down and shook his head violently in a panic. "No, no, no, no no no!" he shouted, and he took his own life. Heimdall shook his head and returned to the fight.
     As terrible as it was, as close to breaking as we seemed, it was soon over. The angels had done well thinning the pack as it approached, and had done well in killing them when they were here. The stone-callers had also acquitted themselves heroically in dealing with the soul-trapped. We were alive.
     But we had lost so many. Five of the angels, whose lives were invaluable to our defense, had fallen, leaving only fifteen. Only ten of Mavuto's beasts remained. And eight of us monks. Collectively, we all slumped to the ground in exhaustion. First the march, then the skirmish, and now a battle. I wasn't sure how much more we could take.
     Gao Han strode forward, the only man, beast, or angel still standing in spite of fatigue. "I'm told that there is one final horde coming," he said, and I heard Jiro groan. So did the Stalwart. "I know that I have asked much of you, all of you, during our time here. My monks, you have followed me and fought the Sorceress and these soul-trapped monsters. Mavuto, you and your beasts have stood and died for us, and I am honored to call you my battle-brother. Truly, the spirit of Jinhai must beat within your heart for you have fought with a discipline and bravery that I hope to instill in my own soldiers. And Heimdall, your angels have been a gift from the ancestors. Without you we would have already fallen.
     "Yet one final horde approaches, a large group that Heimdall's warriors have been unable to harry while they fought alongside us here. One final horde approaches us, another inexorable tide of death to be beaten back with defiance. Yes, I have asked much of you, yet you have given me so much more than what I have demanded.
     "Men, women, beasts, and angels, we all stand here to defend not just the twisted world of Reish or the unblemished land we now walk, we stand here and fight to defend all worlds. To defend all life against the darkness. And yes, things may seem grim. Hope may seem gone. There will be no more reinforcements, I can promise you that. There will be no more strangers who will come along and pledge us their aid, for there is no one left. We stand here because no one else can.
     "I will not lie to you. We will most likely die. But Heimdall represents a large force of angels who even now are purging this world of the undead. Every soul-trapped monster we kill today is one less for them to hunt down. Every creature of the grave we cut down is one fewer that makes it to Reish, to Jinhai. Though this be our darkest hour, even if we die we will not die in vain. For tonight we stand as proud defenders of these manifold realms. Let them come! Let the gates of hell be opened and all their monsters spill forth! We will stand all the same, no matter what comes through those woods! Yea, it may be this world's darkest hour, but I tell you today that this is our finest hour!"
     I rose to my feet, as did everyone else.
     Gao Han looked around.
     "I could not be more proud to be fighting at your sides," he said.
     Suddenly, Heimdall turned. "Here they come," he said, and he opened fire. The beasts scrambled to reform their diminished phalanx of spears, and Jiro joined them on the front lines as the other angels spread out and began firing. The monsters coming were big, clearly beasts slain and then cruelly raised by the metallic virus.
     Coyle stepped to my side, wearing the jade armor as naturally as though he were born in it. "Well, Wen, ready to go down in a blaze of glory?"
     I nodded. "Coyle, even if no one else says it, thank you for what you're doing here today."
     He shrugged. "Don't mention it. These soul-trapped abominations need to be stopped, for all of the planes. If I could do more, I would. Sometimes I wish there were two of me to fight them."
     The corrupted behemoths lumbered forward, moving slowly but inevitably towards our ranks. The ground split beneath them and swallowed up a few thanks to the stone-callers, but more kept coming, and they were so big that it took multiple blasts from the angels' weapons to down them.
     One, moving slightly faster than the others, plowed into the phalanx and killed two vulpines immediately. Jiro slashed at its leg and it went down flailing, but the line was already broken into chaos. Captain Hyeon charged forward again to try to patch it up, but I could see that we were breaking. The angels took to the air to avoid the undead and continue firing from above, leaving our ranks dangerously thin.
     Two more beasts went down and Coyle jumped forward, his sword flashing in the night, cutting down abominations and blocking blows in equal measure. Yet even as he stood, immovable, the others began to fall back before the onslaught.
     "Coyle!" shouted Gao Han, and the man turned at the sound. "Hold the left flank; I'll take the right!"
     Nodding, Coyle shifted position as our formation was pushed back and compressed around the rift. The stone-callers would open up the ground beneath the approaching horde, but there was only so much they could do at once and I could see that they were exhausted. Even as I cast another layer of spirit armor over Jiro I watched as one of the stone-callers collapsed.
     More beasts fell, as did a few angels who were flying too low and got dragged down by the undead abominations. But we held. Mavuto, Hyeon, and Jiro were a whirlwind of blades and magic at our center, while Gao Han personally held the right flank in his usual unflinching way, shrugging off blows and trading back with more strength than the soul-trapped could handle, throwing them off of our side. Once again, I knew it was not for nothing that he was called the Stalwart. Similarly, Coyle held our left flank with his sword and armor, the layered plates of jade-painted metal enabling him to absorb blows and keep fighting.
     The angels rained down death with extreme prejudice upon the deathless before us, lighting up the night with their weapons' blaze. With the stone-callers fading, they would be our only chance to hold off the horde.
     Heimdall landed next to me. "The line is breaking," he said, and I nodded. He looked up. "We can help."
     "Your men will die."
     He looked at me and smiled. "Surely, as a Descendant of the Dragon, you know that death is not the end. You will fight on as a spirit after your demise; my angels will reform in Solace, in time." He looked to the sky and fired a single shot, and suddenly the angels were landing all around us, blazing a gap, their guns buying us a moment's respite before the soul-trapped were upon us once again.
     I watched a large undead beast charge and created a shield of spirit armor in front of Jiro to break the assault and keep my friend alive. Nevertheless, he was thrown by the blow and landed at my feet. Kneeling, I helped him up.
     "Thanks," he said, and he reached down to pick up his spear.
     Heimdall picked it up first. "You fight well," the angel said, staring at the weapon's blade and concentrating. "It would be a shame if nothing were to come of your skill." The angel took a deep breath, then the spearhead glowed a blinding white and Heimdall smiled, handing it back to Jiro.
     "My thanks, stranger," Jiro said, nodding his head, but then he jumped back into the fight, his spear stabbing and slashing all the faster. And now, where it landed the dead did not rise.
     "What did you do?" I asked.
     "Merely imparted a bit of my essence into the blade," Heimdall said. He staggered, then righted himself. "It was not easy. Not recommended." Shaking his head to clear away the grogginess, he began firing again, and I returned my attention to who could use my help.
     With the angels reinforcing our formation there were more people than ever to shield, but my magic was wearing thin. My head pounded with a terrible headache and I fell to one knee as I renewed the spectral armor around Coyle. Beside me, the last of the stone-callers passed out. I stared at the mud, the sounds of battle all around me. Lightcasters blazed, metal clanged, and a few beasts still roared. From sound alone I knew we were nearly finished.
     But so were the soul-trapped. This may have been a large horde, but the stone-callers didn't drive themselves to fainting by doing nothing, and the angels had done invaluable work with their weapons, work that Jiro now contributed to. Even as the angels fell and all but Mavuto among the vulpines were wiped out, even as I watched a monk go down, I saw the ranks of the soul-trapped thinning. Soon there were only five left.
     But what a group they made.
     Immense, hulking monsters, clearly corrupted beasts. Orange lights blinked over them as they towered above even Mavuto, and I watched one swing a large arm and crush an angel in a single blow even as the hapless angel took to the air in a vain effort to dodge. The five fell creatures lumbered forward. One fell to concentrated fire from the angels' lightcasters, but the other four came.
     Gao Han dashed to meet them, an upraised shield of spirit armor his only defense as one swung its ponderous, lumbering fist. I watched as the shield began to crack, but it held. Grinning, Gao Han kicked the beast, giving it pause while Jiro charged between its legs and stabbed its torso, ending the creature's misery.
     Approaching from our left flank, Coyle swung with his sword, cleaving another beast in two in spite of its size. He seemed to blaze with fire as he dashed forward and he struck the beast again and again, leaving it in pieces for the angels to disintegrate with their lightcasters.
     Hyeon and Mavuto stared down another and dove out of the way of a blow. Rising to my feet, I threw a spirit flare directly at the creature's face, blinding it. Roaring in triumph, Mavuto lopped off the creature's limbs, disabling it.
     Heimdall and three other angels flew around the last one, raining down blows with their lightcasters and chipping away at the layers of metal. The soul-trapped abomination swung, knocking two from the sky, but Heimdall and the other one fought on grimly. It swung out again, and only Heimdall flew against it. A third time the beast swung, but the angel dodged out of the way.
     But the fourth time the monster swung its arm at Heimdall, he flew straight at it, firing two lightcasters in a blinding display of power and disintegrating the limb before it could strike him. The creature stumbled, then fell, and Jiro finished it off with his empowered spear.
     I looked around at the carnage. There were barely any of us left alive, but we were alive. Behind us, the rift showed the demon wastes and the night sky of Reish. It was a dark, twisted, terrible land. But even Reish deserved protection from that darkness that had spread out of Avarrach, and we had succeeded in holding the line.
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Into the Fray, a novel of Infinity Wars
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Offline Benionin

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2017, 04:21:05 PM »
Epilogue: The Realms Saved/Work Still to be Done

     We had done it. In spite of the overwhelming odds, we had stopped the Sleepers of Avarrach in their tracks and prevented Reish from becoming that much darker. In the days that followed more angels arrived, more of those Overseers of Solace. They reinforced our position and treated us with respect, we who had fought against the infestation without the proper means to combat it.
     Then one day the skies blazed with such brightness that we were all forced to look away, and when Jiro and I ventured out on a patrol we saw that much of the land was reduced to smoldering wasteland. The angels had cleansed much of the unblemished world from the skies with a strike that exterminated beasts and undead alike.
     The world had been saved, but even as sprouts began to erupt from the ashes with new life it somehow felt like the angels had done something worse than the soul-trapped, had betrayed the beasts of the world. Still, it had been saved.
     Word reached us eventually from Jinhai. The undead had been repulsed and the Verorians' attacks had practically ceased. A group of reinforcements was eventually sent to help the angels hold the rift. Yes, the realms had been saved, but there were no doubt pockets of soul-trapped throughout the worlds. In spite of all we had accomplished, there was still much work to be done.
     But that, dear reader, is another story.
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Offline belial12

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2017, 05:13:28 PM »
haven't started reading yet, but thank god it's finally here!

almost want to save it for later T.T   

seriously I swear this is like drugs.

Offline belial12

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2017, 06:16:50 PM »
much good, so amaze, wow

so what's next, are you going back to the short stories, or a new series with POV on sleeper, exile or overseer?

or are you moving on to the storyline of rebellion?

Offline TameRlane

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2017, 06:23:42 PM »
 ;D top notch stuff Ben! Great work! Was a wonderful read, and i enjoyed it very much!
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Offline Benionin

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Re: The Darkest Hour, Chapter 6 and Epilogue
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2017, 09:42:14 PM »
What's next? I suppose that next up is "Genesis James/Aberion's Wolves." After that, if I get to it, another big project: The Realms Made Pure, where Into the Fray and The Darkest Hour begin to converge. It'll roughly cover the story up through Ascension/Order and a bit of Oppression, and after that there'll (hypothetically) be another novella for Rebellion-era shenanigans.
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Gao Han or Gao Home!
Into the Fray, a novel of Infinity Wars
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