Dailin watched in horror as the streets around his home continued to be a battlefield. One that was growing worse, as more bodies were added to the growing piles already stringing along the paths. It had gone on for a day now, getting near to reaching two. Yet there wasn’t any signs of the bloodbath slowing, nor anyone coming to stop this madness. His home seemed to be the only place left unscathed. The rest of the surrounding houses and large shops had been brought into the war. As people rushed into such estates looking for cover or a better angle of attack against other mobs. No one got near Dailins estate, an invisible kill zone circled his home. Any who dared approach was swarmed by every other group vying for control over the area.
They were all doing poorly, every House sending more people to die. His daughters said it started with Messengers fighting each other, then Faceless, then Chanters, then armies of Guards. There were still Chanters out there fighting, but they were no longer at the front lines. Instead, they were hidden in the back, firing at people from afar.
Dailin had known he was wanted, the eyes of obsession that followed him everywhere was a constant reminder, but this, this was a wake call. Tealhun had said he didn’t understand his Worth, he was now being to get a clear picture of what she meant, and how much of danger he was to all he loved.
‘Gods do these people not know restraint?’ The number of lives being thrown away just so one of them could offer their deal first, had Dailin appalled. They had hosts of monsters outside running amuck, but those Above ignored it and instead spent lives to get to him.
Dailin pulled himself from the shard, his mind reeling from the details, and the knowledge that what he’d seen was from the past. Things could be much worse now. He slouched into his chair, rubbing his eyes, trying to understand the madness that claimed these people. How did they saw this as a benefit to anyone? Why were those in charge of the Sanctum was allowing this slaughter to carry on?
The opening of his chamber door had him turning his head. Sounness was there wiggling her finger to someone outside. A Shard was passed into her hands, and the door closed shut swiftly afterward. When she turned their eyes met, and Sounness froze her eyes darting down to the floor. Dailin turned his attention away from her. This daughter of his was a shy one, always clamming up when he focused solely on her.
Tealhun didn’t, no that one loved when he looked at her, seemed desperate to have his complete attention. She hovered around him as much as he allowed, which was a lot considering he made her one of his Advisors. The only reason he did so was she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Even when the rest of his children looked ready to fall over dead when he became flustered Tealhun continued to argue. She had revealed much, in their short time together. Dailin expected to gain a headache once Tealhun shared her full knowledge through a Training Heart. He’d avoided it so far, his children busy running around fixing the mess they caused.
He was partly to blame in this, delegating all of his rulings to Loves he thought had his best interest. That was shown to be clearly wrong. In their attempt to keep him happy and themselves in control and unchallenged. They had made his House more vulnerable than Dailin could have ever imaged. The situation made worse with his constant growth. Though Dailin would have loved to place all the blame on the dead, he knew better. If it wasn’t for him, if he’d been normal, none of this would have happened.
Part of him was happy this battle outside was occurring. That the Houses that funded the death of his children were now losing some of their own. A pity they didn’t care like he did, that a loss of son or daughter was nothing in their eyes. That been made apparent watching how quick Houses sent others off to die, just to be first to present an offer to him. ‘Madness, utter madness.’
The clink of a Shard place by his side had him glancing down at the table. “A current vision of the turmoil raging outside Papa,” said Sounness, his daughter kept her eyes down and away from his gaze when he looked up. “Thank you,” Dailin said Mana easily weaving into his words in an effort to calm his daughter. Her muscles relaxed, and he smiled before taking the Shard into his hand.
His eyes closed, then open, he was standing outside, guarding the main entrance to his estate. His son scanned the surrounded environment slowly taking in everything that was happening before him. It was a battle between growing armies now, based on the amount of noise echoing in the air. Dailin could tell that the skirmish was taking place far out, down paths he couldn’t see. There was dozens of people fighting on top the roofs of buildings, Giftless firing at each other with crossbows. He stopped time and could see the arrows were solid steel or some variation of metal. ‘Gods no normal armor is going to stop that from punching through.” He let time move slowly so he could watch the bolt continue its course. It rammed into a Guard across the street, firing bolts of their own from a window. When the arrow struck, even in slow motion Dailin could see the force behind it. The victim went flying back into the room where Dailin couldn’t see.
He set time back to normal, arrows whizzing in the air hammering into walls and unfortunate people. Down on the streets was a pitched battle. Guards were fighting each other, using spears with Hearts in them. Whoever struck first won, if they attacked at the same time, the colluding spears powered with wind blades would normally cancel each other out. The aftermath had most being flung back smashing into their fellows. Pools of blood ran down into the drains, which had Dailin feeling ill. He prayed the cleansing system these people used was up to the job of filtering that vile out.
There was a crack of thunder, which startled his son watching the battle rage. The view Dailin was seeing changed as his son quickly jerked his head towards the source of noise and the flash of light that accompanied it. The site of impact was obstructed by a building, but Dailin could see smoke rising into the air. The sight had Dailin worried, air and water was one thing but for them to use lightning was a whole other level of bad. Stone walls would stop the basic Chants that was begin flung around, to a point. But if lightning came and hit his home? Dailin wasn’t sure how far the attack would go if those inside would be safe. Plus Dailin wasn’t confident that the barriers commonly used would be able to stop such an attack. If one went flying toward his son's direction that would be the end of them.
More Thunder echoed the first, a barrage of sound and light began to flood the air. It seemed some rule had been crossed, and all restraint had been removed. Dangerous Chants echoed from all sides, Giftless screamed in terror, as one bolt struck a line of them, their bodies blow apart. Then their fragments went flying out harming others.
His sons grew nervous and hummed barriers into existence around themselves, and the gate they're protecting. The echo of Chants continued rhythmically, the flash of light and quake that rang in the air, made Dailin recall lightning storms. Something he had forgotten since this realm didn’t have weather.
Then all went silent after one last Chant of light. It was brighter than the rest, far more destructive as well. Even with his vision blocked Dailin could tell the building that Chant struck collapsed. A larger plume of smoke rushed into the air. Calls went out, orders, commanding the Giftless to continue forward. The line of Guards had stopped killing each other, more distracted and worried about Chants impacting around them, rather than mundane spears.
His son turned from the Giftless, towards a blur of motion to his side. As the scene focused Dailin saw it was a lone person in decent garb running towards his sons. The person was terrified, his legs pumping him forward as fast as possible. Others noticed screams echoed on the roofs circling most of Dailin estate. As one, even though all of them had been fighting each other a moment ago. Turned and aimed their bolts towards the lone figure. His sons did nothing to help the man, who was punctured by a volley of arrows that sent him stumbling forward. The Messenger was dead before he hit the ground, yet more arrows were sent into him before those above were satisfied and returned to killing each other.
“A pity, I was hoping we'd get an offer to present to Father.” Another of his children laughed “That’s not going to happen anytime soon, the Houses are fully committed now. They won’t let one of their rivals win, not even if it costs them everything.”
His son words were confirmed as those above echoed the news that someone had attempted to present an offer. Chants bloomed anew, this time striking at buildings close to Dailin estate. People fled from the interiors as sections of buildings broke away. But not all ran to new cover, no, some using the smoke of debris as cover ran towards Dailin home. The sight caused others to show themselves, soon over a dozen ran towards his children.
Screams of panic echoed above as the Boltmen aimed their sites on the Messengers. Even raining down arrows in haste, the act killed most, the bodies’ pincushioned. But some weren’t as they seemed. Those that remained hummed, barriers forming around them. The arrows bounced off the defenses and the Chanters hastened themselves. They ran and maintained a Chant at the same time, something Dailin knew wasn’t easy for the people he was watching. Cries of desperation came from the rooftops, as people continued firing volleys of steel arrows at the Messengers shields. The Messengers were getting close, and he sons began looking at each other. Readying themselves Dailin assumed, to quickly open their own defenses for any that grew close enough.
They needn’t bothered, as Chants formed from above and shot down. Wind blades and javelins of ice rammed into the Messengers defenses. The first volley killed most, the Messengers unable to maintain a strong enough defense while moving. Those not dead dropped their shielding and trained their sites on the Chanters above. Hastily formed and fired blades of wind went flying up, while the Messengers returned to running towards his sons. The Giftless on the rooftops were caught unprepared. They were either cut apart or sent flying off the building crashing on the stone floor below. The Chanters were unscathed, able to place defenses around themselves fast enough. It however got tempers to flare, as when the last of the assault ebbed. The Chanters above performed a Cord, anger and worry mixing together, pushing them to choose to send the Giver wrath. That was the only thing Dailin could consider would make them send such a large blast of light down on the Messengers. His sons saw what was coming, heard the volume of hymn and the acted instantly. Pouring their Mana into the barriers. The scene went white, then dark as his son closed his eyes. It was a dozen or more seconds before Dailin had a look of what happened.
The Messengers were gone, not a trace of them remained, the decorative street of stone near his home was melted, and large glass shaped cracks wormed around the area. All of it was far too close to his home, and through Dailin wanted the Houses that harmed him to waste themselves killing each other. He couldn’t let this continue, his House was being put in danger. If a Messenger got to his sons, Dailin wasn’t sure if the other Houses wouldn’t attack. They’d already caused so much damage, killed many innocents. His sons could become merely another mark against them that the Houses would be willing to pay as long as they won.
Dailin disconnected from the Shard, rose and made his way to the door. His daughters reacted to his sudden dispatcher poorly. Tealhun and Sounness hasty rising and rushing past him to block his way. “Papa,” said Tealhun in a slightly panicked voice “Is there something we can get for you?”
“No,” his said in a neutral tone, as he studied his two daughters. Both appeared nervous. ‘Are they already up to something again?’ it always seemed like there was something going on, something no one wanted him to know.
“Perhaps a Task which you require done then?” Tealhun asked again, leaning against the door, Sounness in front of her. “Yes,” Dailin said with a smile, which Tealhun mirrored. “I need you to get out the way, this nonsense outside must stop.”
Tealhun smile dropped, worry worming its way across her face. “You can’t Papa.” He glared at her and began walking towards them. Tealhun pressed herself against the door, Sounness doing the same. “Papa we can send someone to carry your Message.”
“I can do this myself” he retorted, now standing in front of them.
“What will you say?” Tealhun asked desperate to delay him.
“That they’re to stop fighting and present me with offers,” Dailin answered, getting ready to flex his will and move his daughters aside. “The fighting has reached a point that my estate is in danger, my sons outside are at risk of being killed.”
Tealhun looked panic now “You can’t do that,” she said in a rushed tone. “You’ll be seen as eager to take any offer given to you, seem desperate. That and your presence Papa will make the situation outside worse, Messengers in hiding will rush out to reach you.”
Dailin let the grip on the Mana he had ready slip away, as he sighed in annoyance. “So I’m to wait and do nothing?” his voice growing tense. His daughter Sounness flinched at the tone, head lowered as much one could before bowing. Tealhun averted her eyes, but her head remained upward facing him.
“For the moment yes,” Tealhun answered he could tell she wasn’t pleased to tell him. “We can have a message of displeasure voiced for all to here. Anything else and we risk making things worse, or appear desperate for Backing.”
“Those attacks outside are getting closer Tealhun,” Dailin said frustrated. “These walls around was mean very little compared to the Chants being brought down.” Dailin had never paid much mind to the fact none of the estates were Warded. Except for the towers in the center of the city. At the time there was no need to think about such things. Dailin thought this kind of fighting was impossible to occur. The amount of debt the Houses were incurring had even him shudder. Even with those outside on the low scale of Worth, the numbers of dead was pilling up quick, plus the damage to the surrounding area. Something Dailin was foreign on how the cost of those would be figured.
“I apologies Papa,” Tealhun said with a bow of the head. “But there is little we can do, this event took us all by surprise. If you wish we could pull your sons back inside and have everyone wait in the center of the Estate? But then none of us will know what is transpiring outside.” She paused, and he began to maul over the decision, but her voice broke his thoughts. “Also without any outside as a target for the Messengers to aim for, they may rush the estate and force there way in. If none are there to greet them. The Messengers may take the opportunity to fight with themselves, and the skirmish outside could work its way into our home.”
Dailin sighed, “No leave them where they are.” His voice resigned, “But send a message out that I’m displeased, and that any harm to my estate will be a mark against me accepting offers.” He turned from his daughters, heading back to the table. His eyes caught the gleam of light from the Hearts laying on its surface. He collected some placing them in the sack of cloth the Hearts arrived in. He offers it to his daughters that followed him, both calmer now that he was away from the door. Sounness took the sack, eyes lowered from his gaze but moved up when she turned to glance at her sister.
“Take these to my son’s guarding the main entrance, by the looks of things they might need them.” Dailin said to Tealhun.
“As you wish Papa,” she said, signaling something to Sounness who bowed to him before departing.
Once his daughter left he turned his attention back to Tealhun. “Any idea, daughter of mine, how long this, situation is going to last?”
She looked apologetic. “No Papa, this is new for all of us. Though our Mothers shared most of their knowledge, none foretold of something of this scale occurring. It’s common for small skirmishes, hidden within estates or tight passages to happened. Houses mostly focused on intercepting a rival’s offer to a wanted soul. But that is for lower Houses, you Papa, have those on High fighting for you. This may be the way they settle affairs. Though likely inside the Towers, not out here in the open for all to see.” She smiled at him “A true showing of their interest in you Papa, and your Worth, I suspect the offers when they do arrive, will be beyond anything any of us can imagine.”
Dailin forced a smile, his daughter words were meant as a compliment. But for Dailin it was just another reminder. ‘People are dying just because I exist.’ They were going to continue to do so and with greater ferocity. For he wasn’t going to stop growing, especially since it was his own way to break free from the madness of this realm. Once he was strong enough, when none could hold him down, maybe then he could do something to make things better, found his own settlement far away. If that was possible. That somehow they removed the threat of a race bent on consuming them.
‘To think this is just to get offers to me, one of many. Will all be like this now?’ Will he be forced to wait while other Houses slaughter each other, every time? Perhaps it will lessen, even Houses from the Towers must have a limit. Only willing to lose so much before sense returns to them. Dailin hoped, the last thing he needed was his new race weakling itself before the real threat arrived knocking at Warded walls.
Dailin rubbed his neck before slumping back into his chair, it was back to the waiting game now. So he closed his eyes and began filling his lung to capacity, taking in as much Mana as he could and spent the time weaving Mana into his veins.
The words boomed, and for a time everyone stopped fighting each other and focused on them. “Our Founder has found offense in the actions taken against the land around his estate.” Said one of the Founder sons. “Know that any damage to the Givers Chosen home will be accompanied with a mark against all Offers displayed to him.”
Though the last part didn’t increase in volume, to Ackran the words echoed loud in his ears, his Heart pounding and his already sweaty palms becoming worse. The Messengers words ended but the battle didn’t continue, no, everyone was too full of dread at the moment to consider fighting. Ackran Mothers had been adamantly clear that the Founder wasn’t to be displeased, that every attempt to garner his favor must be attempted.
Yet Ackran was coming close to failing this Task. It didn’t matter that he had nothing to do with the damaged that occurred close to the Founders estate. His Mothers would mark him all the same, then he would be sent to the front. Accompanied by the sea of Soulless being rounded up and prepared for a Flock.
The echo of a Chant brought Ackran back to the Task. The sound a signal for all to return to their roles, as the area once more plunged into the chaotic noise of battle. He moved away from the whole he’d been looking through and hid back in the dark confines of building that been abandoned. Said building shook as a Chant of potent force struck a building near them. Something Ackran was unaccustomed to, he lived in a Tower it's ever surface covered in sacred Wards. He played part in skirmishes of this sort before, but this was the first time outside. It made him see just how destructive Chants were against bare stone. It also had his body tense, the building around him little protection against the Chants flying around.
‘Giver please let the other Houses be spending themselves.’ So far Ackran had been keeping his fellow Chanters back, having them conserve their souls. It had cost him a great number of Guards but his House had plenty to spare. He just hoped others Houses weren’t doing the same, or worse getting reinforcements. At the time Ackran thought he had a force so large that it was completely unnecessary. That killing the Messengers from rival Houses was going to be one of the easiest Tasks he’d been assigned. That been an ill mark, the other Houses had Hosts double his size, forcing him to withdraw. To hide far away from the estate he was supposed to deliver their offer to.
The scuffing of paws against stone had Ackran turning his hands ready to dance a Chant into being. Those guarding him followed in his exampled facing the source of the noise. The tapping of metal against stone had Ackran relax. A new face arrived not a Guard, as the person wasn’t covered in armor. Not a Messenger either by the looks of the garbs. Ackran jaw clenched as he noticed the fine clothing the individual wore and the way he held himself. Eyes washing over them, judging, a fellow Chanter, one above all of them in Worth. The newcomer channels were vivid compared to Ackran own.
“Who’s the Taskmaster?” asked the man his gaze shifting from person to person. “I, am” called Ackran his words coming out surprisingly calm considering what was to occur.
The Newcomers regarded him, his eyes scanning Ackran thoroughly this time rather than a passing glance as before. The individual wasn’t impressed, and openly showed it for all the see, as a sneer marred his lips. “I see, no wonder things have gone so poorly.” He said offhandedly. “Know our Mothers are displeased with your performance and have sent me with Worthy Chanters to take charge and fix the mistakes you’ve caused.”
Ackran bowed, kept the anger hidden away “I’m yours to command Taskmaster” his voice neutral, and calm. A blessing considering the mix of emotions affecting him. ‘Mistakes? Poor performance? They should be showing me with praise that the Host under my command is still whole.’ Even if he’d thrown everything into the fight, Ackran wouldn’t have gotten near the estate. There weren’t enough Chanters at his call to stave off the volume of Chants that would have been sent their way. Nor his Guards numerous enough to push through the rival groups clogging the streets. Ackran saw no possible means for him to have done better, but those on High don’t see the realm as he does, don’t live in truths, of limitations. ‘At least I’ll be able to see this new Taskmaster fail as I’ve had, then we'll see how smug he is.’
“Good,” said the Taskmaster, “at least you know your place.” Addressing the group around him. “Spread the word and organize the men under you, we push for the target estate within five Sequences.” The Taskmaster turned and left them after, his steps quick as of one removing themselves from the area of lowly scum. Ackran raised his head and glared at the entrance the Taskmaster left from, only now letting his anger show. He didn’t care if those around him saw, they themselves were below him, and more importantly, had worked under him for some time. They were loyal, some even showed annoyance, sending cursed looks towards the door as Ackran was.
“What do we do?” asked one them, Ackran breathed and let out a long sigh. “What the Taskmaster demanded of us. No matter our choice all outcomes lead to undesired ends. The only one with a chance of blessing is reaching that estate.” Ackran didn’t need to mention what failure would bring, he doubted any of them would be around to see it. If this charge of theirs failed, all that would be left of him was a pile of meat even Corpses Collectors would walk away from.
They left as he did, heading to tell their fellows of the ill news and to prepare. They had to walk swiftly and only barely got the word spread before the Taskmaster began ordering for the Host to move. The man was accompanied by many Chanters garbed just as luxuriously, all of them far above Ackran in the hierarchy of their House. Ackran suspected he might be looking upon those near the inner circle, below or maybe their Mothers chosen. He hoped and Offered to the Giver that his assumption was right, that those replacing him had the will needed to actually accomplish this Task.
The Guards formed ranks and marched through crumbling streets, the quakes of Chants farther ahead strong enough to crack stone structures. ‘It seems my House isn’t the only one to send Higher to complete this Task.’ That had him shiver, none of his loyal members would last long if they had to contend with Chosen.
Their march was impeded not long after it began, Guards from two separate rivals attacking them from different sides as they pushed through the remains of a fight. Their Taskmaster and those by his side didn’t waste time ordering for lowers to remove the obstruction. Instead, the Taskmaster loyal brothers did the work, powerful Winds streaming from raised hands removed most of the threats. Though it also killed some of their own Guards as well, something Ackran frowned at. He hated waste, especially when it came to Guards, even lowly it took time, effort, and Worth to train and arm them. The Hearts alone embed in the spears the Guards carried was enough to make his body ache at the lost wealth.
That and it didn’t help when their own Guards wasted time looking over their shoulders, to see if they were in the line of sight of ally Chants. ‘It’s not my problem anymore’ he reminded himself, he was a Chanter again, with few responsibilities.
Ackran eyes widened his thought stopping cold as he noticed movement above and the hum of Chants. His hands danced and lips song without the need of his thoughts commanding them. A sphere of Barriers circled him as Chants were sent crashing into the lines of marching Guards. Others not near the blast areas counter with Chants of their own, even the Taskmaster loyal. The building those above them had been using as a perch, shattered. The building taking enough damage that it collapsed, wrecking other structures around it. There were screams as it fell, with Guards racing out from the falling building. They didn’t get far as the Guards in Ackran charge took aim and filled the enemies with bolts.
Ackran maintained his shielding, it wouldn’t stop a Chant directly aimed at him, not yet. But it had spared him from being peppered by the fragmented remains of the less fortunate. He scanned the buildings, searching for people spying at them from above readying for another assault. He didn’t see any, but his Taskmaster didn’t seem to care. Those of his circle sent Chants flying into structures destroying the roofs of buildings. Some fell from the act, turning the street into an ever more difficult terrain to traverse. The attacks weren’t without merit, as Chanters hiding above them were struck, and killed instantly by the force of the Chants. A fate Ackran would have met if Chanters had been acting like his Taskmaster. Once more he was shown how little protection the estates around him truly offered. It was pathetic to see how weak stone was when faced against the might a soul.
After the Taskmaster and his brethren displaced the buildings around them, the area went quiet. They weren’t met with any more resistance as they marched down the path. Though that outcome didn’t last long as they marched closer to their goal. The echoes of fighting grew louder, and Chants rattled the bedrock under his paws. Ackran saw figures darting through buildings their body shape visible for a moment as they passed by a whole in the structures. Once more his Taskmaster loyal sent Chants streaming forward wrecking the buildings around them. Screams of alarm called out as more Chanters and Guards hidden above were caught by surprise. The noise of screams and the breaking of buildings echoed loudly, making Ackran wince. Everyone knew something was coming, that a new threat had emerged. His Taskmaster didn’t seem to care as he continued firing off Chants as they marched forward.
Not long their progress came to a stop as a Host came rushing at them. Enemy Guards emerged from ruined buildings, or around the bend of paths ahead of them. Chanters hidden on lower levels appeared sending Chants in their direction. Ackran ran out of the formation, throwing himself to the ground and hiding behind rubble. Those that been through this before did the same. Standing out in the open with the Guards was a swift way to die.
A large part of his Hosts was blown away, their body fragments adding to the body count the Chants produced. Then the enemy Guards struck, spears alight and the air around them buzzing. The air ripped violently as the two forces of Guards stabbed spears at each other. The Hearts fighting for dominance as each Chant tried to punch through the opposing force.
A torrent of winds was sent racing towards Ackran Taskmaster, the fool still standing in the center of street firing Chants off as quickly as he could. That stopped as the Taskmaster and his loyal quickly encased themselves in a shield. One strong enough to withstand the forces sent to crush them. An impressive feat, all the more showing Ackran these were brothers well above him. With the threat gone the shield around the Taskmaster dispersed and they continued hammering down the Chanters hiding within buildings. Ackran followed their lead when he spotted a target, but most of the time he spent helping the Guards.
Their skirmish was making a cacophony of noise, luring more people to them. Other Houses joined into the fray, pulled in by the sight of wounded rivals killing each other. Ackran only knew this because buildings began blasting apart and the debris was sent flying in his direction pelting him. His growing plan to hide in a building crumbled like everything else around him. No, staying at street level was safest now. He had enough rubble that he could hide with ease and still move forward. His Taskmaster and those close to him, grew annoyed as more foes arrived blocking the path forward. Their Chants stopped as the inner circle of Chanters looked to their Taskmaster for guidance. Ackran didn’t hear what the man said, not over the maelstrom of noise assaulting his ears. But it was clear merely by watching. The Taskmaster and his loyal joined in a Cord, their hymn echoing loud enough to be heard over the sounds of battle.
Luckily for his Taskmaster, the Cord was finished and the Chant formed and sent before everyone turned to remove them. Ackran hissed as his eyes were forced shut by the brightness of the Cord. The Taskmaster in his hast to accomplish what Ackran had failed, called upon the Giver Wrath. It took a few tries of Ackran blinking the blurriness from his eyes before he saw the devastation they're wrought. He stared slack-jawed as the path ahead was made clear, the stone still bright red and sizzling by the heat of the light. The enemy Guards, buildings and anything else in the way was reduced to small rubble that could easily be walked through. He turned to look at his Taskmaster, and as expected found the man looking tired, his channels not so vivid anymore. But that didn’t last as the Taskmaster and his loyal pulled out Hearts and drained the souls that lied within. They stood straight smiling, and admiring their work. Ackran didn’t share in their merriment, as he returned his gaze to the damage caused. He knew his House was mighty, but Ackran was being to worry of the cost this Task was occurring. A Task that didn’t promise any Worth in return only the benefit to show their offer first to the Founder that awaited.
“Forward” screamed their Taskmaster in a confident tone. The Guards raced to follow the command, not wanting to be the next victim of the Chants their superiors would call down. Ackran followed slowly behind, those loyal to him doing the same as they scanned their surroundings. He was thankful he had done so, for Ackran Host show of force was answered in kind.
Ahead of him towards his right the hymn of Cord echoed out. He couldn’t see the Chanters as a building, even pocketed with numerous holes still blocked the view. Then again Ackran hadn't been trying to get a look. He was busy running for cover and wrapping shielding around him as fast as possible. The Guards began to the retreat, pushing each other to speed their dispatcher. It did them little good as the Cord came to an end and once more Ackran had to close his eyes from the light revealed to the realm. He felt a drain in his shielding as stray sparks of power hit its surface. He poured his soul into the construct as fast as he could hoping it would hold.
The Cords lasted for a handful of Breaths, but to Ackran it felt like a Round had been spent waiting for death to claim him. He rubbed his eyes, forcing the blur of excess light to leave his vision. He scanned the area, some of the rubble he been hiding behind either was gone or turned to molten rock. The path ahead was aglow with stone in a similar state. Majority of the Guards under his command was gone. Not even portions of armor or Hearts remained. Ackran could see the enemy Chanters now, the Cord removed all obstacles that obstructed his view. His Taskmaster could to, and he and those around him hasty fired their own Light at the enemy. Not a Cord, but single Chants. Still combined it was a grave threat and those that had attacked them dispersed rather than forming barriers to try in vain to block the assault.
‘A fine mess,’ he thought looking at the way ahead, and the state of their Host. The Cord had dealt a crippling blow to them. The Guards that remained too few in number to hold up against any of the rival Guards lying in wait. ‘Back to retreating then.’ He assumed and hoped the enemy Houses would have their moments of recklessness to hamper them as well. He turned to his Taskmaster waiting for the order to withdraw, instead, he watched his Taskmaster fume, the anger clear for all to see. His loyal brothers displaying the same emotion. “Hearts,” said the Taskmaster as he pulled another from his robe. “Remove all the buildings leading towards the estate, leave no purchase for them to use against us.”
Ackran did not like what he heard. That his Taskmaster hadn’t the slightest thought of retreating and biding their time. No, he was going to rush ahead, and provoke every House in the area to come to stop them. The Higher Chanters filled themselves till their channels glowed bright, then they prepared a new Cord. They struck out against the surrounding environment destroying every building that remained standing till the path ahead was a field of ruined piles of stone. Ackran could see the estate ahead of them, thankfully left unscarred by his Taskmaster rash action. It, however, wasn’t empty of opposition. The Cord likely killed many unprepared Chanters and Guards but nowhere near all of them.
He began to shiver in fear as the numbers continue to rise as Hosts appeared from Passages that lowered into the ground. Allowing large groups of people to shelter from the assault of the Cord. Those groups began rushing towards them. Accompanied by others coming from behind and to Ackran sides. This attack got everyone’s attention. His Hosts was the threat now, a force rushing towards the prize and everyone was going to work together and make sure that didn’t happen. His Taskmaster scoffed at the forces arrayed against them, Ackran thought him mad at first. But that was before he saw what lied hidden underneath robes. Pockets stuffed full of Hearts, a weave of Wards worked into the fabric helped dispel the amount of light shining out for others to see.
Ackran looked to the other Chanters by the newcomer side, and saw, as they pulled out more Heart to drain, a similar sight. His fear ebbed, then was cast aside as more demanding emotions took hold, such as anger. ‘If they wanted the Founder so badly why didn’t they gift me Hearts?’ He would have been much closer to the target, maybe even accomplished his task if his Mothers had gifted him the needed resource to win.
The Higher Chanters moved about, some facing the sides, others behind the way their Host had come from. Raising their hands they began firing Chants off, destroying everything in sight. Cries sounded all around them as the converging forces were struck from Chants or debris. The Taskmaster himself faced forward accompanied by two others, together they rained down Chants towards those ahead of them.
Ackran kept his head down, weaving the barriers covering him, tighter. Counter Chants were sent streaming towards them from all directions. The Guards ran for cover or simply laid face first on the floor. It was the best they could do really, things had gotten out of hand. This was a Chanter skirmish now, and Guards had no place in it.
Many of the Chants missed the group, especially those fired from the sides or behind them. Only the ones from the front displayed danger. But the Taskmaster, thanks to the aids of Hearts, easily forced Barriers into existence with the needed strength to withstand the attacks. “Forward” he screamed, those loyal to him followed as he headed towards the estate. The Guards stayed put, this was beyond them, everyone knew. The Chanters passed the unneeded only glancing to give looks of distaste. Ackran reluctantly followed, those accustomed to his leadership mirroring him. Unlike his Taskmaster Ackran group stayed dispersed rather than risking bunching up and a single powerful Chant taking them all out. He didn’t have Hearts to renewal himself after all, nor did his followers.
Ackran rushed from cover to cover, spending as little time in the open as possible. His Taskmaster filled with souls and confidence marched in the center of the path. Many took shots at him and his group of easy to see loyalist, but so far none neared breaking through the Taskmaster defense. That and the man was quick to retaliate on any who attacked, hammering them till the land they stood on was molten rock. They made good headway before true opposition struck. A volley of Chants went sailing towards the Taskmaster from all sides. It wasn’t a Cord, but every Chanter in range was firing their own hymn towards the common threat.
Even with Heart fueling them the Taskmaster and his loyalist had to stop in place and focus their full attention on the Task of defending themselves. Ackran stayed low to the ground peeking when he could as the air above him rippled with Chants. From what he’d seen every Chanter around was racing towards them, leaving their Guards behind. None of the other Houses were fighting each other anymore. No, right now Ackran House was the only one worth worrying about, he wasn’t sure that was going to last much longer.
The rival Chanters were giving Ackran Taskmaster no time to counterattack, Chants peppered the barriers in timed intervals. Cursing Ackran rose and fired a hastily crafted Chant towards a group before dropping back down. He didn’t even waste time to see if he caused harm before crawling towards another section of debris. He quickly glanced around for targets and laid down, readying a Chant and popped up sending it quickly towards a mark. His followers copied the action, firing wildly more in an attempted to distract their rivals rather than causing harm. It worked to Ackran horror, and soon the area around him began to be blasted with aimless Chants.
He let them, and when the attack settled he stayed lying flat on the ground. Only when a Sequence passed did he raise his head and peek around the rubble. He fell to the floor when one of the enemy Chanters saw and pointed a hand towards him. Ackran quickly Chanted a shield as rock blasted apart, hammer into his defenses hard. He decided to stay laying there for a time, hoping the enemy Chanters thought they got their mark. He cursed as a streak of light passed over him, blinding his eyes to the point tears fell. The ground shook as he rubbed his eyes desperate to regain his vision. His Ears picked up the vibrations of more Chants flying over him, just as strong as the first. Cries echoed in the distance, then snuffed out by the explosion of Chants striking into stone. He looked towards his Taskmaster when his vision was clear and saw that his ploy worked. Allowing those above him time to cast counter Chants at their rivals. The loyalist and their Taskmaster didn’t waste the opportunity, as they filled themselves with soul, draining Heart in a heated manner. They glowed bright, and each Chant they sent was the Giver Wrath. None bothering with Wind or shaping stone into projectiles. Once one side of opposition was clear the group of Heart infused Chanters turned their sight to the next. They leveled the area around them till much of the floor was glowing red, whiffs of heat rose into the air.
The area stilled, and Ackran hurried looked around. But he found no one in view, well save for behind them. What he saw had Ackran running towards the estate. Hosts had gathered behind, and were fanning out. The only reason Ackran group hadn’t been blasted apart was the risk of a stray shot going past and hitting the estate. Those loyal to him followed as they raced over rubbed towards their Taskmaster, towards the even path. All of them hurried, and as they got closer to their goal, those racing after them grew desperate. The air rippled and Ackran looked back to see a volley of Chants heading their way. His followers collected together around him, and as one they shaped a barrier to encompass themselves. Chants impacted near them, only some hitting Ackran shielding, the rest struck the Taskmaster the true target of the other Houses wrath.
Their Taskmaster laughed, as he turned his head from the Host towards the estate, he motioned and those around him pushed the Barriers towards the target. Ackran was forced to do the same, he and his followers pushing themselves to maintain their construct. Chants impacted the Taskmaster Barriers ahead of them, as other Houses from the other bend that been fighting each other took notice of their presence.
The Taskmaster drained more Hearts, then opened a portion of the shielding, and fired around the Founders estate. Shattering buildings, and any opposition that showed themselves. Ackran heart beat faster as fear laced through him. If a single spark of light were to hit the estate all their effort would be for nothing.
Ackran gave sent offers to the Guver the whole time as they marched slowly towards the estate. By the time they neared it the section of building on the other side of the estate was a mess of rubble like the way they came. The Founders Chosen stood vigil at the entrance. None of those he could see looked pleased, but not at him, their glares were aimed towards his Taskmaster. Said Taskmaster smiled at the Chosen once they were close enough to speak. The Taskmaster bowed, all of them following his example, as they lowered the barriers around themselves. Ackran glanced behind as he rose, saw the Hosts behind giving up removing them and turning on each other.
“Congratulations,” said one of the Chosen “That was quite the display you all gifted us with, though I prefered if you hadn’t aimed such Chants towards Our House.”
The Taskmaster spread his arms in apology. “I as well, but theses lowly forced my hand, I hope this doesn’t count against my House Chosen?”
“No,” said the Chosen as he raised a hand towards them. Their Taskmaster didn’t hesitate to pull a Shard from his robe and offer it. The Chosen than passed it to another of his order. That person turned and enter the estate.
“You’re all welcome to come inside and relax, we will do our best to accommodate you.” Said the Chosen
Their Taskmaster bowed again, “Most kind, but we have to refuse, we have another Task to complete.” The Chosen smiled at them “I offer you luck on that.”
“Thank you,” said their taskmaster who turned and headed back towards the Hosts killing each other. Ackran and the others following behind.