Dailin stuck close to Aethin, not that he had the choice. The moment they were told they were moving out Aethin had kept his hand in a death grip. Aethin did his best to hide it but it was clear he was terrified. Dailin figured all of them were, some better than others at vailing it. He kept his own face blank, save for when Aethin looked at him, then he gave the poor soul a reassuring smile, which Aethin returned in kind.
He was a little more confident in his abilities now. Aethin aid and answers to all his questions with speeding the chanting process had done his morale wonders. Aethin seemed ready to leap from his chair in joy when he started asking such things. Eager to point out and explain everything in detail. ‘Rather odd, you’d think he’d hide the knowledge or save it for them in private’. From what he remembers Aethin spoke loud enough that anyone near could easily have learned his secrets. Aethin seemed not in the least worried about it. ‘Perhaps its common knowledge then?’ He was grateful none the less. It was as he knew, the vibrations of the soul or flow of the mana in his body were the important part, and intent, a will to shape it into something.
His problem was it takes him to long to get the mana in him ready for use the way he needs it. Channeling mana to someone else or into a Heart was simple, sending forth lighting not so. From what he heard the front of any evacuation was always a disaster. With things happen constantly and instantly. If he couldn’t send spells out by command he would be dead. Well if the creatures got past all the guards first. But he couldn’t rely on that, things Aethin told him didn’t paint a good picture of the Guards odds against larger Nightmares.
So he had to rely on himself, and a little of his fellow Chanters. A quick hum had him focusing on Aethin, and reminded him of his first bit of advice. He followed suit matching the length and pitch he had been taught. The Mana in him that had been slowing down spend back up, where it could be called on quickly to cast. The words and singing that had been smashed into his mind were mostly for practice. The words didn’t hold any power, they were just a focuser of what you wanted, and the right vibration length for said spell.
Aethin grip tightened forced Dailin to pay attention to his surroundings. They were in the center mass of bodies, surrounded by other Chanters. This didn’t seem to be helping Aethin much in staving his fears. He could see why when reading the Wards, he recognized some of the tunnels. It was getting close to the moment of truth, were they going to make it out or not? ‘Still, think were leaving too soon, things seem barely organized.’ As long as the wards were charged they would hold, it didn’t matter what was thrown at them. Yet they were leaving it, he understood that there were too many people in one place, too many mouths to feed. It’s not as if he expected to stay held up forever. Just long enough that people would be truly commented on fighting and dying to get away. Looking around to those he mingled with, it was clear most wanted to turn back, the Chanters most of all.
He found this odd, as they of all the people should be the least afraid of the situation, they can kill from afar, have pawns to keep them safe, yet they looked as if they were sent to their execution. Perhaps he’s missing something, some important piece of knowledge that would also make him afraid, or more so. Aethin squeezed his hand again, the level getting near crushing it. So Daelin gave his own gripping back, Aethin took it the wrong way, and smiled at him, thinking he was trying to console him.
Dailin smiled if more forced than before, the pain from his hand was starting to become irritating. Making it hard for him to think about anything. Even that was interrupted by sounds and smells. Screams echoed through the hall, making Dailin frown ‘That certainly isn’t going to help the mood’. His heart began to beat faster, and he to found himself gripping Aethin hand tighter instinctively leaning closing to him, Aethin doing the same. The smells had his jaw clenching, and his stomach churning. Death oh how he hated its scent, the way it got stuck in the back of his tongue to linger and gag him.
It made it hard to breathe, forcing him to take small shallow breaths or breathe through his mouth entirely. Which didn’t help, the stench thick enough for him to taste it. ‘Never occurred to me of the stench, how are the others ignoring it?’ Looking about himself starting with Aethin first then the others he saw they were breathing fine, not fazed by the stench at all. Many were taking quicker breathes more out of fear than fighting off the smell.
Moving his head closer to Aethin ear “How is it your ignoring this stench hitting us from ahead.” Aethin looked at him confused before awareness struck him and he lightly laughed. “It’s a simple chant, one that I do automatically nowadays. Focus some of your soul at your nose and think of pleasant smell or no smell at all.”
‘It can’t be that easy, can it?’ Dailin focused on his Mana doing as he was told when the Mana was in place and his will fully on it, he thought of the aroma of flowers. The next second He found himself breathing in deep, lost in an old memory of a garden. Aethin words broke him from his spell “I see that you succeed” His head held up higher “I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise from my Acolyte.”
Dailin was about to respond but began to cough as the stench of death returned in full, the spell ending without a word the moment his will was removed. He performed it again, this time of springtime air, he took shallow breaths. Aethin looked at him barely containing a snicker
“You knew that was going to happen.” Dailin eyeing him as he forced a cough, getting rid of the last remnants.
“Perhaps” As Aethin feigned innocence “I may have thought you able to hold it without effort, but we all have our faults.” Learning closer to Dailin “It’s is a good spell to practice one soul on, being able to maintain chants while focusing on other things is a must if you hope to stand above the rest.”
‘Or to be of more use to someone’ Dailin thought but didn’t voice. Their conservation had done both of them well in distracting themselves from the less pleasant sounds. Sounds which steadily grew in pitch and animalistic in nature. It came to a point where neither of them could ignore it or have a conversation in peace even if they wanted to.
Dailin really wanted to, he wanted to do a lot of things right now, anything but head towards the original of the noise. But the mass of bodies behind him, all close together blocked in hope of heading in another direction. The screams held his complete attention, so he finally decided to pay attention to what was being said. Most were alarms of a sort, names for things, there were a lot of cries of the dying but those were quick and cut short, then there was the screeching. The constant ear piercing screeching. He desperately wanted to plug his ears with something. If it got worse he wondered if his ears would start to bleed.
A thought came to him, clear and important enough to fight its way to his attention over this orchestra of noise. He moved mana towards his ears and willed the sounds to be muffled, not completely go away but lessen. A heartbeat later he could safely say the noise level was half of what it had been before. He sighed, the stress he hadn’t notice build up left, and his ears sagged.
For a few short moments, he was somewhat comfortable, at least as much one could be while marching to creatures that rip people limb from limb. But he couldn’t maintain it, not now. His control even with simple chants wasn’t enough to control two at once, plus paying mind to his surroundings. The fragrance of spring was replaced with death, and it took him a second to decide that breathing easily trumped hearing loss.
The chant failed and the sound returned to its normal volume, even louder now that he was closer to the sources. Up ahead he could see the line between safety and madness. The tunnel entrance was lit but not near the amount of the Wards around them provided. Where they were heading had shadows. The roof left mostly dark, giving the tunnel an evil aura to it, add the screams and it appeared to be the doorway to some hell. ‘Not somewhere I want to go even with magic.’ He both cursed and thanked his luck if he had been a Guard he’d probably be dead by now, but at the same time, he wouldn’t be in this maddening world anymore.
The lines in front of them stirred, people, they talked then turned behind themselves to tell others. A message was being sent down the line, and so he heard its contents. “Were needed, Nightmares are opening new entrances left and right behind the front.” They repeated down the line, and Aethin was crushing his hand again. He continued to, no notion of stopping, the mask he had been wearing was starting to slip. Fear would mark his face vanish then return. Dailin stifled a sigh ‘I’m going to be dragging him by the arm when he freezes.’ A thought occurred to him as he looks at their interlock hands. He needed both his hands to chant, at least for now. If Aethin did freeze up he worried if he would be able to free his hand to use it. Even now he wouldn’t be able to if he tried, Aethin constrained grip made sure of that.
‘I’ll use him as a shield then’ he still had his spear, hooked to his belt. It would be a pain to lengthen it with only one hand but should be possible if he used his mouth. He still had the short sword, and now that he knew about the Hearts in them, he felt more at peace with them being in his possession.
The change in lighting woke him to the fact that they entered hell. The sounds and smells amplified with each step. Then a very sickening revelation occurred to him when his steps made the wet spongy sounds of walking in mud. He wished he hadn’t looked down at the floor painted red, with red purplish mush about. He even stepped on some, sending chills and revulsion storming through his body. His feet were bare, padded and shaped like an animal. Till now he had been completely oblivious to it. He cursed, and cursed so more, shivering and feeling sick with each step. Wanting nothing more than to run back the way he came and wash his feet.
He forced himself to look forward, his breath shaky and coming in manic bursts. The smell of death assaulted him as his focus was shattered, and continued to be with each step. His skin crawled whenever he stepped into another clump of mush. He was nearing a panic attack as the thoughts swarmed him of the filth he was marching in. Caking his feet, and that it may be there till their get to this new Sanctum. The only thing that saved him from screaming, from trying to push his way back towards the Warded hall. Was an even worse scene for him to view. Nightmares everywhere, and Guards trying to fight them off. People being ripped apart or drained of life, if his eyes weren’t deceiving him.
Aethin grip helped him take his eyes off the horrors that were taking place. His mentor looked sick, pale skin going whiter, and his movement was very forced now. Dailin was surprised Aethin hadn’t frozen up completely yet. He won’t mind at this moment he didn’t want to march closer to what was going on either.
A Chanter that he never caught his name of voiced, commanded “activate the Ascendance, these Guards” heavy amount of disdain placed in the word “have lost control of the situation.”
Dailin wasn’t sure what he was talking about, he sifted through the knowledge given to him by Aethin but was coming up blank on any details. Only a few acted on the Chanters command, pulling out small flat panels of stone from their robes or deep pockets. Every inch of the flat stone was covered in carvings of Wards. The pattern deep and complicated, and when Chanters moved mana into them they hovered. The pieces combining together to make platforms.
With hand gestures, Chanters had these platforms lower to their feet and stepped on them. They had just enough room to place both their feet on. Then they hovered up into the air only stopping before their heads touched the ceiling. Dailin eye twitched, anger batting away the fear and disgust he had been dealing with. ‘They have hover platforms? Why am I marching in filth then? Where’s mine at?!’ curses forming as his thought dissolved into self-pity. He looked at Aethin tugging on his arm to grab his attention. It caused a squeak from him, as Aethin seemed to have been in a trance. He looked at Dailin panicked, his voice strained “What Acolyte?” no false smile greeted him, and Dailin swallowed his anger taking the foolish word that may have followed with it.
He made his voice as respectful as possible, and gave a look of awe towards the hovering platforms “Do you have one of those, Mentor?” Aethin looked up noticing them for the first time, and scoff. “I did but I traded it for more, needed things for our journey.” Looking at Dailin, smiling “Besides if things come to the worst and the Guards fail to keep the Nightmares at bay we’ll merely fire into the lot of them. No need to shot over their head if their no use to us.” With that he looked forward again, his eyes losing focus as if he was somewhere else entirely.
Dailin wanted to cry, he wanted to float above the filth, needed to. But that was denied him, for things that Aethin seemed unwilling to share. ‘It better be good, being able to hover over most of the enemy seems useful to me.’
Though looking at them they also do appear vulnerable, an arrow sent their way would have them falling off. A tunnel appearing above their heads, they'ed be dead like anyone else below it. ‘It has its faults,’ as he watched it hover ‘least they don’t have to walk, they could have sat down on them as hovering thrones if they wanted to.’ Which had him question why they were standing?
Screeches up ahead had him focusing. The way forward was a sea of carnage, and Dailin was amazed and revolted to see how pulverized the dead were. Most of the clumps and mushes of meat were stacked on the sides of the tunnel. What whole corpses remained, were hacked upon by the Nightmares when they got close, ripping flesh and limps in their mad race to eat. They didn’t get too often, the Guards were fairing better than he had thought, believed. It all came to the Hearts, a canvas of starlight in this poorly lit hall. He now knew that was what is keeping this race alive, the one thing holding things in a rough balance.
He prayed to the gods that these Nightmares didn’t gain any intelligence, or find a means to harden themselves against the Hearts. Least not while he was around if it came after he didn’t care. But right now he did, very much so, and he silently cheered the Guards on. While he and the other Chanters stood there watching. It was a little awkward, the Guards even fighting as hard as they were, were dying quickly. The Nightmares coming from too many angles for them to protect themselves properly. So here they were watching with the full power to do something about it and weren’t, not yet anyway. Dailin looked to Aethin wanting to ask why but stopped himself, his Mentor was deep in a trance. If he did break Aethin from it, his Mentor could freeze up or lash out and that wasn’t good for anybody.
He could see the Chanters hovering above had they hands raised forward, moving, and aiming but seemed reluctant to act. He understood then. if their spells were anything like how his had acted, this was going to cause friendly fire, if done poorly. There was a lot of their allies left ahead, a call went out from one of the Chanters “Move from the tunnels focus the center”. His voice seemed amplified for it echoed loud down the hall, and it was quite amusing to see all the Guards and Commoners ears stick up at once. They didn’t act on the command instantly many fighting for their lives. But shifts began to occur as Guards backed away from entrances and more Nightmares started to pour into the already packed hall. “Now” called the Chanter, and the others answered. Lightning, waves of rippling air, ice spears, all went forth. Hammering the entrances killing all instantly, the lighting still caught some unlucky Guards in the blast. They screamed but fell dead quickly, their frames left an unsettling sight.
The Chanters keep at this but only fire when they see Nightmares coming from the entrances, they still didn’t help the Guards with the ones already in the center, but after the mishap with the lightning Dailin wasn’t surprised. They would likely only fire into the crowd after it became blatant that the Guards had lost.
He Chanted the smells away, the addition of burnt bodies making him uncomfortable. They smelled off-lye close to the meat he ate, and he wasn’t sure which it was coming from. The Nightmares or people, he prayed it was the Nightmares. The guards didn’t seem fazed by all the senses, even though Dailin was sure most didn’t have the know-how or ability to do remove them. They fought as beasts all the same. They are just as aggressive as the Nightmares themselves. Not that it did them any good, there always seemed to be another Nightmare to take the place of a fallen one, while the Guards were thinning. The Commoners as their called, added to the problem by being around. Blocking Guards from forming properly, or blocking the view of a lurking enemy.
All the while he and the other Chanters surrounded by their honor guards watched passively. Mostly, looking around from person to person he could see many with clenched jaws and wide-eyed. But not a care or tear was being shed over their own being slain. ‘No their only thinking about its soon going to be their turn’ his whole frame shaking ‘so am I.’
One of the Hovering Chanters got smart, or tired of firing spells into an endless crowd. Materializing a large amount of cold freezing water he sent it forth spraying over an entrance. The water froze afterword’s, blocking the path in a thick sheet of ice. The Chanter repeated this two more times, and by the end of it, the ice may have been half an arm-thick. He didn’t understand why they didn’t do that to all the passages. Not till he noticed the feeling of dry blood stuck to his painted feet. Looking down the wet mush floor was barren now. All the moister gone, leaving behind dried flesh and other things, he didn’t want to think about.
Cracking sounds had him looking up at the imposing ice wall. It had thin lines spreading through it. ‘So much for that, no wonder they invested in tunnel carved Wards.’ The ice wall held for another minute or more before the first stone beak broke through. The gap quickly enlarged and the maggot creatures poured out again. A loud screech and an armored fist plowed through what remained of the wall. Stepping out is an armored behemoth compared to the other Nightmares. The Guards called out Grounder and began backing away. Dailin expected things to go wrong quickly, everything turning into an even greater mess.
Instead, two Chanters aimed their hands at the monster, which was still moving through the hole. The Creature didn’t even have time to notice what happened. A spell of lightning and pressured air slammed into. One moment terrifying creature, the next a mass of shredded flesh taking up precious hall space. The Guards cheered for once and rallied against the new foes. Dailin though glad the beast was dead found it anticlimactic. He expected mayhem not something to be swatted down as a fly. The Guards acted as if the battle was lost when it showed up, so it was clearly feared, just not by Chanters.
Another one of those Grounders came through an entrance further along, closer to Guards. It let out a roar raised its fists to start pummeling, only to have its top half reduced to paste by a Chanter spell. Some of those on the hover plat lowered themselves down, hopped off allowing another Chanter took their place. Those that offered their plates didn’t appear tired. Not in the way Dailin did when he overextended himself. ‘Must be pacing things? Won’t do us any good if we’re are all too tired to fight.’
Even with the Chanters only killing Nightmares at tunnel breaches, the Guards were regrouping and thinning out what Nightmares remained. Dailin doubled his focus on keeping the smell away, pitying the Guards who had to live with it. Commoners that were safe busied themselves moving bodies stacking them at the edges of the walls. It helps, but by now this section was so clustered they will be forced to walk single file. How the Guards keep their footing on such uneven ground was a wonder to Dailin. When things became too unbearable or not passible some Guards would use their hearts to dissolve the bodies in the way. He had to turn his head when he saw it, his face properly had turned green from the scene.
Hails of joy went out as the last of the Nightmares around them were killed, and people wasted no time marching forward. The Guards getting the commoners and supplies back in order. He and the Chanters waiting for them to hurry along, but kept a watchful eye on the entrances. There hadn’t been another Grounder, not that it could do much, but the bulk it left behind was annoying, forcing people to cut it apart. He almost gagged when he spotted commoners storing its meat away, all proving his fears. He watched every moment he could when people looked at the dead, making sure he saw or not that they took meat from their own. ‘Looks like am going to be only eating mushrooms this life.’ His stomach twisting and turning over images of the meat he ate.
So far he spotted no actions of cannibalism, and the path forward was somewhat clear. Guards marched forward hurriedly to aid their brother further along, what few remained. He wasn’t sure how many, his view was hopelessly blocked by a wall of backsides.
When it came time for them to move Dailin was forced to drag Aethin along at first. Looking into Aethins eyes was similar to a dead man. What trance his mentor is using is doing its job well. So well he was worried if he’d be able to break Aethin out of it if the circumstance required. He shook his head, not bother to waste time or energy on something that will come later. Aethin matched his pace in a matter of seconds making it seem he was there. The wet footfalls and the uncomfortable feeling that came with it had Aethin completely out of Dailin mind. Then the new echoes of screeches held his full focus. He wasn’t sure which path they would come, the echoes making them sound everywhere. Which they could be for all he knew.
Cracks formed on a side of wall near the Chanters line and those in front came to a halt. Their hands raising in unison. A transparent blue-tinted shield formed in front of them, and the slabs of stone that blasted from the wall pounced off easily when hitting the shielding. From the new opening, a behemoth came forward, the stingers falling in line behind it. Maggots to from the sound his ears were picking up. The Nightmares regarded them. Those in front hummed and the shield glowed red hot and was sent flying forward, catching the Grounder and those around it. Their screeches were unbearable as the creature’s melted alive. The shield even as it was being to fade, held the Nightmares from moving forward giving the Chanters ample time to ready themselves. Pressurized air streamed towards the new entrance pushing back and cutting anything in its path into a fine paste. Dailin didn’t know how far the spell would travel into the tunnel. But if most of the creature were piled up near the front, then they all should be dead.
It was silent after the raging winds died, the noise of battle was only ahead of them now. But he and everyone else kept an ear up waiting for more wall to come crumbling down. Guards blocked the caked passage as he and the Chanters walked forward, painfully slow for his taste but the number of obstacles that obstruct their path couldn’t be helped. A Chanter neared the entrance, humming and his fingers moving oddly as if he was trying to pop all the bones. As he reached the wall he hands went out touched it. They glowed and stone moved to the pressure of his fingers tips. He grabbed it then his fingers digging into stone as if it were soft clay. He moved and dragged wall with him, covering the entrance completely. The process left much of the wards in that area destroyed, and it didn’t look pretty either, ragged and uneven it stood out clearly in the perfectly straight hall.
They moved forward afterward stopping each time to block an entrance. Dailin hoped it was more than a thin sheeting of stone covering, but instead an arm or two thick of solid mass. Anything else as he recalled the maggots and their beaks, would make any effect here pointless. As they moved the Chanters overhead aided the Guards further along the best they could. If they had wanted they could have left the main Chanter group behind and aided the Guards fully. But they seemed content to stay and hover over their heads. Lowering and trading places with others when necessary. He hoped it was never his turn, though being out of the filth would do him wonders. But even with guidance his spell rate compared to the others was laughable, and he was afraid that would be exactly what they do. Maybe even send him off with the guards for not being worthy enough to be around them.
Sighing, he offered a prayer of mercy to the gods and sent thanks again for not being assigned to the Guards. He hadn’t seen any of the other children but if this was the kind of battle they were facing he would assume most were dead. An even crueler act this race enacts on it children now that the picture was becoming more clear. Sending them off to die against monsters not even a week old. If this was common practice, his skinned chilled thinking of what else this race could do to its own. The Chanters would he knew, their conversation around the table had Dailin pity those who couldn’t use mana.
That pity only grew as he watched Guards and Commoners fight off Nightmares with everything they had while he and the Chanters batted them away easily. He wouldn’t trade places with them or do anything about it, but he could see and understand the unfairness of it all. They were his proof and encouragement to be seen more than cannon fodder in this world. For it would be a short miserable and extremely painful life.