Faelic checked his armor and spear for the hundredth time, making sure he hadn’t mess-up putting it on again. ‘Not that it will do me any good’ he thought, his legs kept fidgeting as he sat there the waiting eating at him. The coming battle sending streaks of cold chills. He wasn’t the only one showing signs of worry, most of those around him were fidgeting in one way or another. Faelic inspected his spear, and the small heart embedded into its shaft, the only important part of the whole weapon. Without it, he had no chance of piercing through a Nightmares shell, only if he got lucky and speared into a gap in its armor. The Heart gleamed, glowing its calming white, always easing him. It was fully charged his spear would do its job. He just had to live long enough to use it.
He took deep breaths and breathed out slowly, but it did little for him save for letting everyone know how scared he was. These moments were tests of will that he realized early on he didn’t have. The waiting he wished would end, but at the same time, a part of him didn’t, for what followed after was worse. Fighting a Nightmare no matter the number of time, never got easier or less terrifying. An image of one enter his mind and he shuddered, leaning closer to one of his battle mates to ease the stress.
The one he was closest to, the one that had taught him the best methods to fight Nightmares. Vac one of the old guard, a veteran that had done this for more cycles than Faelic could fathom coping with. Vac wrapped an arm around him, giving him a reassuring squeeze. Faelic looked up at him and smiled, Vac always stone face just nodded. He cared about Vac, well he cared for everyone he knew. But Vac held a special place, and if it wasn’t for him he would have died in his first encounter with Nightmares. But for all that Faelic couldn’t look into Vac eyes, least not for long before his own began to mist. Vac eyes were empty, broken? So many Cycles had taken a heavy toll on his friend, and there was nothing he could do for him.
Placing his head on Vac shoulder he tried to relax his limps that seemed ready to snap from their own strain. His hands shook ‘Giver, Protector please lend me strength’ another image of a Nightmare enters his mind, he closed his eyes hard, banishing the thought. He was breathing quickened again, as were others the ones that knew what was coming. There were some though that sat comfortably, not a worry or care of the coming horror. They didn’t know, they were new recruits, and Faelic felt both pity and jealousy towards them. The Newborn, the ones that came out somewhat right, not like the empty ones. He had to carry some, the ritual failing to even teach them how to walk, or anything. It might have been a gift that they knew how to breathe.
These children were going to be their vanguard, going to let them know how strong and how many the rest of them were going to be dealing with. He felt shame when relief swelled within him that he and those he was close to weren’t picked to help aid the newborn in fighting their enemy. ‘If only that ritual had worked, we’d had a small army of eager fighters.’ He sighed as he recalled the scene he helped to make. Staking the mindless newborn on pallets, none complained not even the ones at the bottom, being crushed by the mass of weight over them. He had avoided looking into their eyes too. Vac still had something there, a sense that a person lied within, but the children, it felt as if he was looking at a corpse.
A shuffling and someone sitting down on the floor, pressed their weight against him forced Faelic to take his eyes off the newborn, and away from his thoughts. He was greeted with the sight of Dawnith using him as a makeshift pillow. A fellow brother in arms, and one of the few left that was in his training group back when he first joined the Guard. Moving away from Vac, he wrapped Dawnith in a hug, doing his best to comfort his friend. Dawnith suffered the worst during these periods of waiting, getting himself scared witless, and racked with worry. He could feel him shivering, meaning his friend had got himself rattled the moment he heard of the Prime Guard plan. The worst plan for any guard to hear, a full head-on assault in one direction carving their way through the surrounding Nightmares and make their way to a larger Settlement. The whole time they were going to be followed and hounded by their enemy from behind, and in the front if more of them are heading this way.
A suicidal action without Chanters to aid them, he banished the thought. Instead, he focused on Dawnith, his shivers began to dim as did his pounding heart. He had his eyes closed a well-known look of calm. “Where have you been Dawnith?” Faelic attempting anything to distract Dawnith from his shadows, even if it’s pointless chatter.
Dawnith didn’t answer, not at first, he didn’t look like he heard him, but eventually, his eyes opened, and nervous words flowed from him. “Was helping get the last failed newborns on the slabs.” Looked away from Faelic towards the floor, “Then we helped the useful ones get into their assigned spots” sighing “it didn’t go well at first they can walk, follow you, but they’re still clueless about everything. Thought it was going to take all our time getting them ready. Then some high upper, one of The Prime Guards protectors. He showed up, had us step far away from the newborn, then said something close to their ears.” Dawnith eyes wondered trying to catch the image of his memory in full before he focused back on Faelic. “Those Newborn got all straight-backed and formed into lines in a few Sequences. They appeared as well trained guards and followed him as he left”
He listened closely, but was watching Dawnith more than anything, he wasn’t shaking now. That was all that mattered to him. Hearing the High ones had things under control, more than he thought, just made things better. If the newborn acted with grace and care as a normal guard then their odds went up. He squeezed Dawnith a little tighter and placed his cheek on top of his head. His hair was wonderfully soft, and since Dawnith was so short he was the perfect height to use as a pillow. “That’s good to hear, least we know they can be used now. What you all do after that? More newborn stacking? Dawnith shook or tried to shake his head, but it didn’t move much with Faelic weight on it. “No they were the last, and no one was around to give us a new task so we dispersed, get some rest in before the march.” Dawnith began to shake, Faelic squeezed him out of reflex. His tone soft doing his best to soothe his friend “none of that, everything’s fine”. Dawnith was breathing hard, his eyes closed, Faelic began to hum to him, his tone matching the maidens that he asked to teach him. He couldn’t use his soul, not enough to produce the effect they could, but he found that the familiar noise itself brought comfort. Not long and his friend calmed down, he even fell asleep, the light snoring giving it away.
He kept up humming for the sake of others who were also were finding warmth in it, but also for himself. Maintaining the note played a useful distraction to his worries of the very near future. Though he began to falter as sequences passed over a dozen or more. His concentration slipping as sleep began to take him, his eyelids slowly closing the humming held a few more breaths before it stopped.
The banging of staffs and the rough movements of armor echoed loudly around the enclosed space of the overfilled halls. The noise startling Faelic and Dawnith awake, the fog of sleep thrown away instantly, their bodies knowing what came next rushed to ready themselves. Wild-eyed Faelic looked around as other forced themselves up from their rest. All were checking their armor and making sure their spears were in hand. Faelic followed suit as Dawnith rubbed his eyes, he was shaking again a mix of fear and nervousness. Not a breath after he finished going over his equipment did he find those in the front of them moving forward. They were forced to follow as the mob behind them began to push forward.
So they marched, it was slow going at first, the Core clamored with people but once they opened up and passed through Blockade things quickened. They were at the pace of a fast walk, and none wanted or dared go faster than that, it was going to be a long march towards another safe Settlement. Faelic didn’t know what way they were going to take, or area that had been assigned to push through. Not at first anyway, he gained an idea as they went down familiar halls, halls that were part of his patrol pattern. Halls he didn’t want to go back to, those among him had quickly placed the blockade when Wards began to fade rapidly. His post had been one of the first to fall back. ‘It will be overrun with them by now, their mad, MAD!’ He internally screamed, and if any had looked they see the panic in his eye. He began to breathe heavily, fighting the gnawing pains in his guts.
A hand grabbed his sleeve freeing him from his darkened thoughts. He looked to see Dawnith staring at him, worried. Faelic did the best smile he could muster and patted his friend hand, before refocusing headed of himself. By now it was clear to Faelic that the path they were taking was indeed his stomping grounds. Which made him worried not only about the number of nightmares, but also the direction they were headed. It was the wrong way towards any near Settlements. Not unless they were going to bloody the enemy a little to trick them. Then swing around and head down their true path.
They neared the final block, all that separated them from the host, even this hall that they marched in was under assault. Wards glowing red, a match for the blood that will soon be spilled. Fighting in that hue was always a burden in more ways than one. Many times he had been injured with wounds that appeared small, hard to make out in the blood light. Not something that should cause distress, only to start feeling light-headed, and relieve that blood was gushed out of him from a cut vein.
He heard the block slide out of place, and his ears become assaulted by the clicking as clacking of the Nightmares speech. It ceases instantly when Nightmares notice them. The scrapping of claws on stone replaced it as they charged forward, as one they released a high pitched screech, their form of an alarm. Faelic ears picked up on the echoes and eventually others of their kind repeating the signal farther away down the passages they had made for themselves. Soon all would know the location of their counterattack taking place.
His eyes did their best to pick up the outlines of the Horrors coming for them in the pinched black hall. Falic heard a command and lighting stones were activated. Then thrown into the void, a part of Faelic wished they hadn’t done that. As the Hall was bathed in the light again, the scene became crystal clear, and Faelic really didn’t want to see it.
The Life-drainers attacked first with their long legs, and near spear length stingers the things stacked around each other. Forming a living wall that moved as one towards them. The front liners of the unluckiest of his brothers were given shields. He hoped the newborn had been trained how to properly use them. The Nightmares stingers bounce or stuck on them. The latter gave the guards a clear shot to use their spears, stabbing squarely into the Drainer head. The Hearts of the staff allowed the tip to easily slide through the thick shell, piercing straight through the head. Once removed they fell lifelessly, their legs curling into themselves. Others took their place a breath later never fazed about how many their ilk will die. The very thing Faelic hated and feared the most. 'They won’t stop, not till every single one of them was killed or they were.'
His brothers at the front didn’t want to move forward even with the shields they wielded. Eventually one of the stingers will get through no matter how well the defense. But the mass of bodies behind them pushed those reluctant forward, there was no choice in the matter. Step by step they went blocking strikes and returning their own. There made good headway not losing a single brother, but their shields were starting to crumble. His ears picking up those telltale sounds of their failing. The front becoming more aggressive in their frequency of attacks, saving their shields for when they were most needed.
They pushed on, to the point they reached the first opening the Nightmares had made to breach this tunnel. The true point of where the fight begins. The front stopped, none willing to cross that mark, where they will be vulnerable on three sides. They stayed there, pushing back against the tide of masses trying to force them forward, Faelic heart was hammering fear and pity tugging at him. The longer they waited to move the more Nightmares will amass, but he couldn’t blame the front for not continuing onward.
Faelic ears perked up when someone shouted, commanded. The front liners froze up and then straighten, shields raised and short blades pointed forwards all in a coordinated matter. Then as one, they stepped forward no fear marking their steps. They were fighting far more aggressively, and the pace forward quickened. They passed the threshold, and the Nightmares that had been hiding within their own tunnels poured through. There tunnel makers, Carvers crawled up and over each other to be the first to attack.
The Drainers of the lower half of the living wall moved apart letting more Carver’s stream in. Cries of alarm went out from those behind the front liners. The Carver’s Beaks, and teeth will make quick work of their brother’s shields. Most ignore the stingers as his brothers used their spears stabbing any Carvers that got to close.
Faelic as was the rest of his line forced to watch helplessly, too far in the ranks to render aid to their fellows. There they spilled their first blood, and the Nightmares reacted immediately to its aroma. Attacking in a new craved frenzy, the Carvers with the Drainers made quick worker of the first lines shields. Already crumbling from before when the Carvers beaks were sent forth, the shields didn’t stop their momentum. Shredding the shields as if it was thin cloth, some even took hands or fingers when they ripped through the defense. The newborn didn’t scream though, they attacked all the harder. Those without shields focusing on the Carvers, far easier to hit as they small legs didn’t allow for quick dodges.
It didn’t matter though, even as Carvers gutted people with their own quick jabs of their beaks, or when their mouths opened to clamp, and sever limbs in half. The newborn kept pushing the Nightmares back, the dead growing on both sides clogging the hall, slowing progress. Faelic and the old guard were nearing the front, the newborn even with their odd training, were being dispatched quickly. The lack of spears and the hearts that went with them, sealed their fate the moment the skirmish began.
His eyesight narrowed as he neared the Carver passage, the Nightmares tunnels will be an ever-present danger even when the clicking horde has been cut down. More will eventually arrive through them, till one of the Chanters passing through seals it.
Faelic shield raised moved some of the power in the Heart in to it. One of the first tricks Vac had pointed out to him, and one that has saved his life most often. The stone shimmered, and kept a soft glow, when he and those closest to him bared the gap his shield held against the tide of beaks, and stingers. He with the others pushed back gaining some room for what came next. Their spears went out, sinking into flesh, but unlike the Newborn they didn’t quickly withdraw their attack. Instead the shafts of the spears glowed brighter, the air rippled, and flesh nearing the area of the spear tips ripped, and shredded apart. Carvers were rendered to pulp, the Drainers came away with head-sized holes and quickly died from blood loss or shock. They pulled their spears back shields held high once more and waited. The Nightmares were undeterred by their display, and just like the Guards wanted Nightmares massed together again to overwhelm them. It equaled the same result as before, and the times that came after. Before long the tunnel was a mass of pulverized meat, ready to be cooked if they had the time to collect it. Faelic checked his Heart, smiling at the sight that it had plenty soul left within.
Taps on his shoulder let him know that people had arrived to take his place. He gave a nod and prayer to them, as he and his brothers followed the rest of the front forward. He was far in the ranks now, and he could see as those around him moved the dead out of the way, the best they could. They had made much progress. It came at a cost though, and he felt guilty for thinking that it wasn’t that bad of a price. Most of the Newborn was gone, those that remained wouldn’t for long, their shields if they had one were falling to pieces, the armor they were given was subpar. Their skills fighting Nightmares was non-existent, it was obvious they were never given any training about them. Only how to form ranks, and move as a cohesive unit.
‘They didn’t even get to live a Cycle before paying the price.’ it was his first time seeing this ritual used on children, and he found it disturbing, he understood the need, that they would die anyway if they failed. But it felt cruel to him, wrong ‘This wasn’t mercy for them, No’ his eyes laying on the corpse of one as he marched ‘No this is just so Higher ones will increase they own chances of surviving’.
He sighed doing his best to numb himself to the senses and thoughts that surrounded him, focused on the task at hand. The Nightmares had done a lot of digging in and around the warded tunnels, and as they walked further along it, it put them at greater risk. They could be attacked by any side now, at any time. They all could become the front in a breath. But for this instant, it was still only the head of their mass that was encountering resistance. The Nightmares kept swarming, and when reduced in size would retreat away and mass again. Their numbers seemed limitless, the loss they suffered meant nothing in their cold eyes. As for the Guard, each lost brother was a clear mark of their own end to come. One less person that can watch your back, one less spear to thrust at the enemy.
Faelic felt a low but familiar rumble through his feet, causing him to stop cold, his skin crawled as chills ran through him ‘Grounder’. “Grounder!” he screamed, others echoing his call traveling down the caravan. He felt more, one coming from his left, and a softer one from behind him to his right. He didn’t get time to call out, the horrors had arrived and they wasted no time attacking.
From Nightmares passage, he'd already passed they punched through. The Guards posted there sent flying backward from a boulder-sized spiked fist. It stepped forward carried on hind legs, two large bulking arms with a length that left them resting on the floor even standing. It had other arms but those ended with a large stinger instead of a hand. Others emerged looking around them before all let loss an ear-piercing screech. Their face opening wide to display a collecting of fangs and mandibles.
With long arms and thick-armed fists, they began to lash widely at everyone. The Guards shields useless against this type of Nightmare. Brothers were sent air born crashing into others or the wall. None got up even if the shield took the brunt of the damage. Bones shattered from the force, most may have been dead before they shuck the stone floor. Defense was worthless against this foe, and they weren’t the type one could get away from. Surprising quick even as bulky as they are. Faelic and brothers his like rushed the nearest one, spears aimed forward. The Grounder charged and began swiping at them madly. Not ideal, but something they were prepared for. The Hearts of their spears glowed, and once more the air ripped around the spearhead. Were it met armor broke away, meat instantly ripped to ribbons. It screeched stumbling backwards as Guards jabbed at it from the farthest length they could. No one wanted to be grabbed by it, or hit by a wild swing.
They had it distracted and Faelic wished those behind it would hurry, it wouldn’t be long before the beast went truly mad. letting loose another screech, one that made him wince as his ears ringed. The Grounder stopped swing at them, go down on all fours. Faelic felt his limbs act own their own pressing him against the wall, trying to make himself as thin as possible. A lower screech and the Grounder rushed them, the ground shook, as it lumbered forward. Spears met its charge, but it didn’t care its mass moved forward even as large chunks of shell and flesh ripped from its frame. Swinging its arms at those and crushing others that had fallen underfoot. The creature left a river of mangled flesh behind it. Faelic had fallen pressed his body thin against the wall, as it passed by him. Other had done the same, but not many. The spears without the intent of their wielders went dormant, stuck within the Grounder. It continued a bit farther catching other guards from behind as they fought another of its kind. But the creature slumped to the floor not long after.
His legs shaking and his mind raddled it took Faelic longer that he liked to collect and right himself. Things were a mess, the cries of alarm moved his focus to the front. The line thin and without much support as the rest of them were fighting off Grounders. They were being swarmed by a new surge of Carvers and Drainers, the line was ready to crumble. He felt disgusted with himself as he turned away from their cries for aid and focused on the armored behemoths. The hall ahead of him made him sick and his heart sink. Bodies littered the floor broken mangled or so beaten that it would be hard to figure out what they once were. He walked unsteadily forward “With me” his voice low that of a whisper, louder he called “With me” to those that had survived the rush as he did. They looked at him, stopping as he moved away from the front and towards the mayhem behind. One called out “Where are you going? The fro—"Faelic cut him off “Means nothing with those horrors at our back.”
Faelic marched on hoping that some followed him, he had been through enough cycles, seen what havoc Grounders bring when not dealt with swiftly. He wanted to run towards his foe, but he minded his steps, the ground was slick now, and he could no longer hide the sound of his steps as well. He still arrived at the back of the horror unaware, the monster had its back to him fighting off Guards that were jabbing at it wildly.
Holding his breath he sent the Heart to maximum as he thrust his spear forward. It slipped through the armor with the resistance of water. The Heart doing its work instantly as armor and flesh shattered. The Grounder Shrieked, turning quickly to face him. Faelic held his grip, and let the Nightmare do the work for him. As it turned Faelic and the spear stayed in place instead of being dragged by the momentum of the Grounder. Faelic watched as the Spear effortlessly cut through the flesh of the Grounder as it turned, it sheiks of pain growing. He had to dodge as a fist came at him from the side. Forcing him back and pulling the spear with him. He stumbled backwards as quickly as he could as the Grounder swung. Its side a ruin as internal parts flowed out of it. Others spears enter his vision, slicing into the Grounders swinging arm, cutting it apart. The nightmare gave one last cry as his brother behind it stabbed their spears into its hide. Faelic continued backing up till he stumbled to the floor, the Grounder crashing close to him. He crawled away afraid it may still live and grab him. One could never tell, life or death their eyes were always the same cold stare.
A pair of hands gripped him taking his eyes away from the horror. A fellow guard was at his side, its then Faelic notice he was shaking, his armor making their own clicking sounds. Closing his eyes and rubbing the tears from his eyes. He focused only on his breathing, trying to forget just for a moment of the place he was in.
He couldn’t, however, the sounds of Nightmares, the cries of his brothers dying. His eyes snapped open as he forced reluctant limps to move. Those around him gave him a helping hand. Once standing and with the horror dead and not taking most of his view, Faelic could see others. Could see the hall even somewhat hidden by shadows, areas were the light stones weren’t near enough. It was covered in the blood of his brothers, the Grounders doing the work for most of their brethren. “The front” he heard one of the guards say behind him, and by instinct, Faelic looked. Then ran, he could hear the others following his example. They ran as fast as they could dodging and stumbling over corpses allowed. Ran towards their brothers even if they were facing Grounders, those they had the numbers to fight against. The clicking and screeching horde behind them, none, they would be ripped apart the moment their Hearts ran dry, and by the looks of his that wouldn’t belong. His fight with the Grounder had been costly, wasteful and now he was going to pay the price if he didn’t get in numbers with his brothers.
As they ran a Grounder they neared heard them, it half turned while still fighting Guards in its front. They didn’t give it time to ready itself. As Faelic and others ran spears forward slamming into it, he had his spear maxed only long enough to watch it slice through the horror and carry him forward past the Grounder away from the swarm. He didn’t even check if his attack had killed it, he only focused on running. Yelling to those he passed “Regroup, Regroup the swarm follows.” On he went not stopping to look, to see how close death was on him. Though he didn’t need to as he ran the looks from those in front of him. The looks of terror as they began to run in the opposite direction was enough of a hint.
None of them got to run for long before a tide of closely packed and marching Guards blocked them. ‘Thank the Giver and his timing.’ A Mass of brothers with those behind them cutting the large dead Grounders into pieces, pushing them out of the way the best they could. His relief grew when he caught sight of Vac leading the group. Vac nodded at him as he neared, and before Faelic could think, Vac pulled him so he stood behind and faced the enemy again. Others doing the same for their fellows, as all took solace of greater numbers to face their fears. It greeted eagerly, a wall of moving fangs, claws, mandibles, and stingers rushing towards them. Easily moving around and over the slain.
Vac began forcing himself to the front, and Faelic reluctantly followed in his wake a breath or two later. Not that he got far before Vac turned to look and pushed him to go back, a spark was in his eyes and a hint of a smile on his lips. It was the only time that he saw his friend alive, and he hated what it meant.
Standing lock shoulder to shoulder Vac called out “Spears up”, as the Nightmares raced towards them. “Ready your Hearts give all it can on my mark.” His voice lavished with humor and merriment, it made Faelic arms shake more, and hard not to notice his pounding heart quicken to the approaching carnage. As ever, even when the Nightmare could see they were about to slam into a wall of spears they never slowed.
A few breaths before they made contact, Vac called out “Now” and the air gained a low buzzing sound, tingling Faelic ears. Quickly forgotten as he lowered his head to the side, as blood poured down on him. The Nightmare wall dissolved into a smear that kept growing. He tried to keep his eyes clear enough to watch the glow of his brother's spears. Watch for any that were ready to burn out, so he or another could quickly take their place. He hoped someone would keep a close eye on him, for as he looked at his own spear it was clear that it was only a little over a half charged.
Perhaps a sequence passed and still blood rained on him, the swarm tide not relenting and spears shafts were going dark. Faelic moved forward, a slow process with people locked together, and took the place of one of his brothers. Then he was being hit by blood and other things he didn’t want to think of. From the corner of his eye he could see Vac standing in the center his spear still glowed brightly. A gift for his many Cycles of service. The man was smiling, and from what he saw of the throat, was also laughing. He thanked the Giver for sparing him from hearing it over the noise of grinding bodies. Vac laugh during these horrid moments sent a chill done his spine all its own.
His spear shaft was going dark, and he almost feared no one was coming to replace him before he felt the shaking of his shoulder. Then he was behind the front again breathing hard and shaking all over. He kept falling away from the front as others with hearts fully charged moved forward. None of them were pleased to do so, but all knew what would happen if the Heart wave began to fail. Faelic, on the other hand, was thrilled that his part, for now, was over, and that he wasn’t being splattered with blood anymore. As breaths and then sequenced passed, he felt the urge for battle leaving him, his limbs growing sore, heavy, and standing become more difficult. He was already drained and they had just begun. They wouldn’t stop to rest he knew, it would be a far march to the nearest Settlement. Anywho dragged behind were left for the Nightmares to take.
As his eyes began to drag he focused on the wall of death, having fear spread some life back into him. The Wave was rending everything it touched into a muss of sorts, then pure liquid if giving enough time. Needed at this point, for even now the halls were becoming too confined to the masses of corpse blocking spots in growing numbers. Shrieks had his head turning to look down the line away from the front. Though they lost much ground, he could see they still had advanced far enough where they had to guard or block Nightmare tunnels. More had come and he saw bothers pilling their spears into the holes trying to keep the reinforcements at bay.
‘Where are the Chanters? Has no one sent word of this resistance?’ Fear and anger mixed whenever thinking of their ilk. Able to kill scores of the largest and toughest Nightmares with a wave of the hand. Yet they are reluctant to ever render aid, only when it suits their needs. Even then they’ll be slow about it.
Faelic felt a prickling from the handle of his spear, the Heart sending a request, it needs to be refilled. Breathing slowing he answered with his soul a difficult thing for him. Then he felt his hand go numb, felt life itself leaving him as it traveled into the Heart, its glow growing. He stopped it soon after panting and his body feeling as if it had been training for hours. His awareness of the surroundings became muddled as he recovered. Only gaining some sense when he felt hands pushing him forward bringing his head up. The Swarm was defeated for now, but he could see further along more were amassing. Many more, Brothers pushed passed one another, those with full Hearts sent to the front the ones spent nearing the back or sent to help block Nightmare tunnels.
Faelic struggled to keep pace with his limps throbbing, and a hand was continually placed on his back to help him. Others were forced to offer themselves to the Hearts in their counterattack costing them greatly. If they had to hold off more swarms of that size it won’t be long before all Hearts were spent. ‘Then the Chanters will have to aid, or no one else will be left to fight for them.’
They regained all the ground they lost, the Nightmares holding back retreating away as they moved forward. Past more of their tunnels, taking more guards to block them, more sides they will be attacked from. He prayed that it wouldn’t be another group of behemoths.
Through the mass of moving limps, he could make out the Tunnel turned a corner ahead, his heart ached as he gripped his spear tighter. Nightmares loved using these moments to launch an attack, and Faelic heard Vac call out for spears to be raised and readied. Their pace slowed as they neared the bend. Then the moment of truth as those in the front thrust their spears around the corner. He waited but no sound followed no screeches of pain. They turned the corner to see the Nightmares farther back. They had formed a living wall again blocking his view, but they weren’t moving. Even when his Brother continued forward they stayed their position.
Its then he heard it, his ears his greatest advantage, the chipping of stone behind and at the front of the column. His brows furrowed as he focused on the sound, others noticed their ears pointed towards the source. Faelic eyed went wide when he saw cracks appear on the walls. Before he could yell they have smashed apart, knocking brothers aside, stone hailing them with great force. Then screams of panic, he among them, as they all noticed the Grounder in their ranks, swinging and crushing brothers with ease. Behind it, Carvers crawled out in mass, and worst of all as Faelic stumbled back, he saw the living wall rushing towards them. The front dazed as it was being hammered by the Grounder. They were no spear formation, the hearts not readied, and Faelic was moving without his awareness of it. Running, crawling, back the way they came, others were as well. Faelic stopped before going around the bend, as Guards were smashed into the wall, blooded they made a sickening crake as they hit. Their frames were caved in where the strike had hit.
Faelic had his spear ready others were at his side, his throat dry and voice shaking “Re—ready your, your Hearts, Use it all”. He then rushed the corner. Carnage meet him on the other side, there was a Grounder and Carvers about. The Guards near the newly opened entrance were pulp on the floor. The rest had retreated and regroup farther away, forming a new Front. As before Faelic and other Guards dashed forward, air rippling ahead. The Grounder whirled at them forcing him to duck, its fist passed overhead. Some fellow’s weren’t quick enough, and he head they bones crack from the impact. Spears dug into the beast its frame bursting apart, the hearts fully unleashed were even catching Carvers in their aura. They rushed through the mob as fast as they could, hearing screeches of more behind them coming from the new entrance. In his mad run Faelic nearly forgot to turn his heart off as he came upon his brothers. Lifting his spear straight he moved into their ranks, people separating to let them pass.
His breathing was quick and heavy, he leaned his weight against the wall, light headed and a little panicked at the feeling of not getting enough air. When he finally composed himself enough he looked forward towards the mess they had made. The Nightmares were already feeling in the gap, luckily another Grounder hadn’t appeared to replace the vanquished one. Half of its bulk rendered to mush, the rest was being munched on by Carvers, none were moving to attack them yet, but he could see many going the other way, rounding the corner.
Tears formed and fell when he remembers he friend, and his actions, his shame. He left them to die didn’t even try to aid them. He knew Vac would have, if it had been him in trouble, Vac would have leaped into the fray. Then carried him to safety if need be. He looked down, no longer able to watch the Carvers move to kill off those that remained. He cradled his spear held it close, wishing it was a person, one of the maidens to sing him soothing words, have his pain and guilt go away.
‘All these Cycles, Giver why is it still so difficult? Why does it hurt so much still?’ He hated himself but mostly hated the feeling that had him hating himself. The guilt, shame, regret, of the memories all of those he’s failed or seen die helping him. The image of Dawnith came to him, and he his head bolted up, he wiped the tears from his eyes. Began searching for his battle brother, guilt gnawing at him ‘Why do I forget them when they need me most?’
A part of him knew as he looked up and down the ranks of Guards that his search was pointless. Dawnith could be anywhere, far in the ranks baring a Nightmare tunnel, or, his thoughts turned numb at the thought of lifeless corpse, one that he might have passed unaware of at the time. To focus on himself rather on those he cared about.
He rubbed his eyes as more tears flowed, lost in thought tuning out the sound around him. He may have stayed like that for a sequence or two, but the noise of battle woke him from his trance. As he looked he found it wasn’t the front fighting Nightmares, who were still many spear lengths away. That and the Nightmares themselves were turning around facing away from them, also attracted to the noise. There rounding the corner a glowing light appeared, his eyes squinting at its brightness. Nightmares began to screech at it, as those caught close splattered in all directions, coating the walls with their blood. He could see figures following behind, confusion had him before his mind finally registered what was occurring. Guards those that must have somehow survived the ambush, were doing as he had, retreating searching for brothers and form the new front.
When they breached and passed the Nightmares the blinding light vanished, revealing his friend Vac, his spear and heart still giving a soft glow, far stronger than any of theirs. Vac was smiling, and laughing as he reached the front. Relief swelled in Faelic, the guilt that had plagued him began to fade. Those that followed behind Vac in his retreat weren’t as merry as he. Their armor was in shambles, shields better off thrown to the floor than carried, and worst theirs hearts were dark. They were eager to slide far in the ranks, none could fault them for it.
Vac, on the other hand, stayed with the Frontlines locking shoulders with them, as he waited a smile plastered on his face, for the Nightmares to attack again. ‘How could he find joy in this?’ This question always came to mind during Vac moments. The man was a stone when the fight was well and done, and they returned to safe carefree tasks. His eyes glazed and empty, but here and now Faelic has never seen someone with so much life, so thrilled to be. He was somewhat jealous of Vac ability to find this entertaining, but he wouldn’t jump at the chance to claim it for himself. Madness swam in those eyes of life, and he wasn’t sure he wanted a part of it.
He was happy Vac was here though, glad that such a strong fellow was leading them. His Heart alone could change the course of any engagement with the Nightmares. He wouldn’t have anyone else watch his back during a fight.
Vac cheered, and roared a challenge at the growing wall of Nightmares, eventually calling out “Forward Brothers, we have much ground to cover.” Before he marched and the rest of them reluctantly followed. Faelic among them, as he looked at his heart he was not pleased. It would need to be recharged again if he maxed its strength like before. If he dared Faelic doubted he would have the strength left to move on, which meant to be left behind and then death. Or forward with a spent spear which also meant death when he got caught alone fighting off a Nightmare. Already he eyed the floors for spears from fallen brothers. But none so far caught his eye. Those further up didn't hesitate to pick up any they found and hooked them to their belt.
If he had any sense he should have grabbed some during both of his retreats, but the mind isn’t so clear in the heat of the moment. He prayed to the Giver that when the time comes one of his brothers will gift him a spear to use. He prayed for many things as he marched towards the smarm that as yet to attack them. He heart growing more worried with each step. He was next to the wall this time so he ready himself to back away and turn to run the moment he heard stone being carved into. He didn’t need to be at the center of another ambush.
Spears went up shields locked as the gap between their foes decreased, the swarm surged forward and the air ripped once more. They continued on, and they weren’t met with another ambush as before. When they rounded the corner they only met more Nightmares. They marched at a steady pass for many Sequences, nearing a Round he thought. Before it was his turn to help guard a Nightmare entrance. He slowly fed soul to the Heart as he marched, stopping when the glow was of enough brightness that he didn’t have to worry about it going out on him during an engagement.
Little tried to get passed them, the Nightmares either thinned or amassing. Waiting for when softer prey was open for them. Faelic knew it shouldn’t be long before the commoners would be joining. The most stressful moment. As he and his brothers would have to hold off Nightmares from every angle for those in the middle to flee safely. ‘At least the Chanters will be with us then,’ If things did become dire they would intervene. He shivered, as thoughts of their chants filled him, powerful winds that cut everything in their path to pieces. Attacks made of light that melted things. If the Chanters got involved and didn’t try to be careful friend and foe would be consumed by their Souls.
A Calls went out, commands perhaps, and Faelic risked a quick look down the passage back toward their Settlement. The commoners with the Prime Guard elite’s among them were heading their way. Commoners were moving the dead about, ashen faces on all of them. He doubled his focus on the Nightmare passage, as now was the best time to attack, with the commoners and the supplies that they carried would make regrouping harder. His fellows knew this as well, most had been through this before.
His muscles strained from the growing tension, as commoners passed them, waiting for a horde of Nightmares to come screeching down the passage, but it remained empty. Not something to be joyous about, the nightmares don’t pass up a meal of any kind. He wasn’t young enough to believe they had already killed all or most of the Nightmares plaguing the Settlement. If they had Faelic figured why leave? They could repair their home, instead of heading for a new one.
Click, Faelic ears perked up. His grip hardened on his spear, as the tension grew. Another click as soft as before but it was closer, and there were others that went along with it. One of his fellows must have been carrying an extra light stone, as before Faelic know it the entrance was bathed in light. His frame froze in place when everything came into focus. A tide of Carvers stared at them and stopped. He could feel their eyes focusing on them. “Nightmares” call out a brother at his side, and it echoed the hall, as the low talking Commoners went silent. The elite guards hurried the commoners along, their shouts the only voices heard.
The Carvers laid where they were, not single one moved. Least, not the ones he could see. Clicking and mandibles flexing could be heard farther back in the shadows. The Nightmares weren’t being as quiet anymore, aware enough to know when they had been spotted.
Cries from guards posted at a breach back towards the Settlement reached him. Faelic ears picking up the crack of shields being struck. He and his fellows pressed closed together, shields slightly overlapping. Their spears at the ready, as a signal only the Nightmares could hear they moved as one. Carvers piled up on one another as they came for them. Their mass the width and height of the tunnel, Spears went out instinctively and Hearts woke, ripping the mass apart. But more and more pressed against their spears, and Faelic wasn’t too keen on over using his Heart. The swarm had other thoughts as their mass continued to swell forward. Forcing him and brothers to step back. The assault of blood and body fragments distracting them.
Faelic felt a knock on his shield as a Carver got a wasted blow before the Heart rendered it to paste. He increased the output of his heart cursing himself, and praying for the Givers aid. Cries went out as Nightmare entrances came alive. Footfalls quickening as the commoners increased their pace, only slowed by the supplies they carry or pulled along. Not that it matters as he was sure the front was also under assault. The commoners rush forward would only get in his brother's way. The saving grace was the Primes elites moving into place.
He knew this as extra spears and people pressed against him. The swarm dissolving away the moment the two sides met. More alarms went out and he heard slabs of stone striking the floor. His legs went numb knowing what comes next. Commoners began to run past them, as Guards rushed to close the new entrance. Carver’s poured out accompanied by Life Drainers, one catching a guard. Its stinger piecing a gap in his armor, and its many long legs stabbed at him as well. Blocking his moments to use the spear, in moments his screams turned weak. His face began to the shrink in. His body began to shrivel, skin cracking. The nightmare only stopped when its prey was left a lifeless husk. Its rear end swelled, gaining a red hue its movements faster as the Nightmare seemed to brim with new strength.
Faelic couldn’t make out if his own tunnel had Drainers, the belting of blood too much for him to face completely forward. Forcing him to watch helplessly to the ones around him as Nightmares swarmed about. The elites and regulars doing their best to box in the new threat. Faelic could see more of his fellow’s approaching, the veterans showing up with the beginnings of the center caravan. With them would be the Chanters that gave him some peace. Knowing that no matter the threat it could be taken care of. ‘Giver, please offer me a gift of mercy this day, spare me from meeting an end from their painful chants.’ He knew praying only for himself was in bad spirit. But the memories of brothers lost to chants of steaming water, or wind blades were too much to ignore. The only thing good about this was it would force the Chanters hand. They were in danger themselves, and they won’t sit back and watch death come for them.