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Nactic as he poured more of his soul into the failing Wards wonder how this Rotation had gone awry so quickly. The Scouts arriving only a handful of Sequences before the Wards sent alarms of an attack. A once peaceful Rotation quickly became a mad dash of activity as tunnel sections crumbled under heavy assault. “Enough” called his Senior breaking their attention to the assigned tasks “This tunnel won’t hold even with our help, we retreat closer to the Core.” They bowed and did as told, racing down passages with Wards rapidly diminishing, they lowered blocks as they passed, none of them holding hope that it would truly slow the Nightmares approach.

They merged with other groups, which were performing the same tasks as them, abandoning the common tunnels, blocking routes forward. It had yet to be a half Round into the attack and they likely already lost a good portion of the Settlement. Nactic didn’t think himself a coward, but he was having trouble holding the Givers prayer that they would be able to hold off this threat. Others shared his opinion even if they didn’t outright say so, his brothers who once laughed, or talked about showing off their skill, now were silent save for offering their prayers. Nactic called to his new Mentor, one that had only arrived a handful of Rotations ago. “Shall we hold this section, Senior?” Mentor placed his hand on Wards listing to the calls “No we’ll block this passage as well, we won’t stop until we arrive at the crossroads, that is what we’ll defend until the order is given for a full withdraw.” Dismay showed on Nactic face, but he bowed with the others and prayed that those he knew would be waiting at the Core instead of left to die.

He continued his mantra asking for the Giver to protect them, to guide their hands. Others did the same those that have lived through this sort of trail before. The younger of his brother’s unaccustomed to these patterns wasted their energy nervously looking about the Wards. “Calm my fellows, focus on your prayers there’s nothing else we can do right now.” They bowed to him, and some did as he advised, looking forward no longer with darting eyes.

The Crossroads was already manned by many when they arrived, most of the passages connected to it were closed. His Seniors linked with the Wards scanning for any strains, any clue into how far away the enemy was. “Nactic? Realms above am I glad to see you” When he turned around he was pulled into a hug, he returned it “Alsis! Giver be praised, I feared the worst.” Alsis smiled as he pulled away “We’ve been retreating none stop if we had dared to hold the front tunnels we would have been overrun.”

Nactic frowned as he observed the Wards “I know we didn’t have that much time to carve those furthest out, but for the Wards to fail us so quickly, maybe some of us will have to review our teachings.” Alsis shook his head his eyes glazed over for a passing breath “No, the Wards were fine, it functioned, it just got it hard multiple times. My heart near froze, one moment the tunnels were well lit, the next every Ward went dim, almost spent. We ran full spend after that, and a good thing too, not even a sequence passed before the whole tunnel went dark.”

Alsis shivered, and Nactic wrapped him in another hug, a comfort for the both of them now as Nactic own heart was fluttered. Even the most basic of Ward circuits would hold off against Nightmare attacks for at least a Round. His grip went tight ‘Theres something else out there above the common fodder!’ “Nactic you’re kinda squeezing me here.” he snapped out of his trance “My apologies Alsis, soulless thoughts had my mind for a moment.” He patted Alsis back before breaking their embrace “I have movement!” called a Senior not part of his group. His Mentor motioned to him and his others “To your places we hold till we’re told otherwise.

They all connected to a portion of wall, listening to the Wards, to calls for aid or mending. It wasn’t long before a flood of such request fell upon them, as multiple blocks were struck at the same time. The Wards flared red instantly and began to pulse, he and his brothers, in turn, poured their souls into the framework. Making sure no Ward grow close to falling, and that the circuit never ran dry of energy. They kept this pattern going, time passing by till Nactic had a feeling that perhaps half a Round had passed, yet no word had come. By now messages should have spread throughout the whole Settlement of the situation, of their plight. They could keep the Wards at full strength for two Rounds by themselves if needed. But at the cost of becoming spent, and that was the last thing Nactic wanted while in the midst of an attack.

The realm went dark, then he snapped to, found himself on his knees. Gasping for breath as his body recovered from the shock of having more than half his soul yacked out of him. All those around him, save for his Mentor were in the same state. A few of the younger brothers looked near fainting. He nearly did when he brought his attention back to the Wards. It was still active, but no longer held at max capacity. Worse he had the growing fear that if they hadn’t been linked into the Wards it would have crumbled from the assault that it had just received.

The Senior members of the groups all called out “Retreat, we’re blocking the crossroad and heading straight to the Core.” None argued, when an attack of that nature happened again there wouldn’t be much they could do about it. Nactic and the older members helped the youngest of their fold to their feet. Some had to be dragged as their minds still fought to recover from the shock. Once everyone was clear they quickly brought down the blocks to all the entrances, muttering offers and blessing to those they may have just doomed. When all of them were in the passage that led to the Core, they began readying to bring down the final block, they stopped as panic gripped them. One breath the Crossroad was bathed in crisp red light, then it was almost completely dark, the Wards barely still functioning. Mentors hastily brought down the Block to their tunnel, as it fell Nactic heard stone crumbling apart, Nightmare calls echoed into the room before being cut off as the block engaged.

The tunnel was silent, as people leaned against walls or crumpled to the floor. Nactic placed a hand on the wall steading himself, then he leaned on it as he legs began to shake. His mind was in turmoil, he had helped make the Wards, knew what it should be able to handle, how long it should last. His face wrinkled as he observed the block, how little protection it truly represented right now, with something out there able to drain a whole intersection so quickly.

He pushed himself from the wall as he stumbled over to the younger of his order. Forced them to their feet, his voice low and unstable “W-we can’t rest yet, come quickly that block means nothing” he motioned forward and people picked themselves up. His senior and the others of the groups were huddled together whispering. ‘Making trades, offering deals.’ Nactic would do the same when the time called for it, but now they were all still in danger, a truth that reared its head as the Wards on the block pulsed red.

They ran, only stopping to bring down blocks as they passed. They stumbled into other groups, scouts and guards moving about relaying messages, or only now getting sent to man checkpoints. Many eyes turned their way as they ran past them. A Mentor voiced “Retreat to the Core the crossroads is already lost.” They didn’t wait to see if the people they passed heard or listened. Only when they entered the Core did Nactic and the others let themselves rest, dropping to the floor as they finally succumbed to their bodies demands. Seniors walked over to them frighten and confused by their abrupt appearance. “What is going on? Orders have not been given for withdrawing.”

Nactic Mentor answered between quick gasps “The Crossroads have been lost, something is out there hammering away Wards as if there child scribblings.” Their Leaders turned from them, faces pale as they hurried called for scouts. Messages were sent, as Nactic host recovered pulling in what soul that could from the environment. Horribly thin compared to the amounts that traveled the air in the higher realms. Their Leaders were arguing with each other now, with the messages sent all that needed to be decided was a course of action.

“We should strengthen our defenses, we don’t know how many are out there.” Others called “Nightmares are wiping away our defenses as easily as kicking a stone, we must attack, remove whatever force is causing this.” Another screamed “Fools we should flee while we can, the things have shown we can’t stay here, if we fight them off it will only attract more.” On and on their fight went as people began to cram into the Core, all sharing the same look of despair. Many to Nactic on horror looked absent, their minds still under the effects of soul withdraw.

He breathed in and out, focusing all his attention on his calls for blessings. He let the realm around him fade away, he stayed in that state long enough to center himself, to face what was to come. When he came to the Core main room was filled to capacity, and the assigned Leaders of this Settlement still bickered with each other. He never questioned it, never had a reason, but now as he looked at them he wondered ‘Do any of these brothers qualify to run a Communion?’ They had the markings of large souls, the rivers that flowed the life through them glowed, but not near enough to be considered great. He questioned their age as well, an elder had many cycles behind them, wells of knowledge to call upon for difficult times, yet those before him argue with one another. Surely they had seen this before? Dealt with a problem of this nature? Nactic sighed tiredly as he continued his mantra, finding that he and many others were falling short on what should be expected of them.

An arm wrapped around his own, followed by a shivering body pressing against his. Alsis tears in his eyes, his voice cracking “Sorry to disturb your offerings, I just need someone right now.” Nactic didn’t answer instantly, instead he pulled Alsis into a hug, his words soft “It alright, now is the best time for release, why not share the burden, what plagues you so?” Alsis tears intensified “My Bond-mate” the rest was lost as Alsis pressed his face into Nactic chest. Muffed crying enough for him to understand Alsis distress. A close scan of the room showed that even with the main chamber pact there was still many of their Settlement members missing. Many who had been cut off the moment they had lost the crossroads. Nactic offered blessings that those abandoned would be smart enough not to try and open blocks, but if they did he wouldn’t places curses on them.

He held Alsis tight the both of them finding comfort, some safety in the act. He watched as his Seniors decided their fate wasting time with a debate, one that was thankfully cut short as Scouts rushed in pushing their way through people, shouting alarms. Under gaps of desperate breaths “The outer tunnels have fallen the inner rapidly following suit, soon the Core will be under assault!” No one spoke as all eyes left the scouts and turned to the Leaders. Who returned to bickering, before coming to a decision “We flee, there’s another Settlement Northeast of here. That will be our target. Grab what supplies you can, we leave in five sequences.” People pushed out of the main chamber, searching the adjoining rooms. The daring will check the rooms further out in the inner Tunnels but not many. Nactic own group and Mentor, their task done quickly left with the rushing masses. He didn’t, not only for Alsis sake but also because his robe pockets were already filled with varying Hearts from his time in a Sanctum. A small insurance that he had hoped would never be needed. But the life outside the Givers truly blessed was always marked with danger.

Alsis crying had stopped, but he’d yet to move or separate himself. Nactic watched as people began to return, accompanied by far fewer supplies than what he was expecting. “Alsis it’s about time, are you prepared?” Alsis shivered, he looked up at him and smiled thinly, his eyes were distant “Enough for what is to come.” Nactic nodded his head, as he ruffled Alsis hair “Good, though” he looked deep into Alsis eyes “Don’t give up to much, the tunnels are vast and the Giver may bless us, we can escape this.”

Alsis let out a tired sigh “But a part of me doesn’t want to. Part of me doesn’t want to run anymore” His grip grew tight around Nactic chest “I’m tired of the Nightmare taking everything I hold dear.” Nactic rubbed his back and sung him a tune, small comforts to keep his friend from doing anything rash. Helping to ease the pain and now anger festering anger. Right now a clear mind is key for when they enter into Chaos.

Alsis eventually relaxed, the burning hate that was growing in his eyes faded away, none too soon as their leaders called out “Time is up, into ranks. We’re traveling full speed till we” An uproar happened outside, emanating from one of the inner tunnels, screams of alarm, panic, then cries of pain.

During the ruckus, one of the Anointed ones had rushed to the entryway where the noise came from. He had the block crashing down before anyone was able to reclaim themselves. “Guards go” he called, as another of the leaders began to talk “Gathering everything, the last person to leave a tunnel, is to bring down the Block, move people!” The Guards raced out commoners and Chanters close behind, Nactic had to drag Alsis at first, his attention solely on the block. His hands were shaking, his breath uneven but it wasn’t fear that had him. “Calm yourself Alsis this isn’t the time” Nactic grabbed his arm and tugged hard. Nactic own temper flaring as he was none too pleased to be the one furthest in the back of the flock. One that was forced to waste time bring down blocks as he passed.

Things went smoothly for on a handful of Sequences before pandemonium fell upon them as they entered the outer tunnels, all were dark. The passages were swarmed with Nightmares, their calls for flesh echoing through the halls, as the soulless constructs rushed towards them. The Guards, as was the norm with their ilk were distractions at best. Taking for too long then he or his brothers could stand to work through the swarm.

Nactic frequently checked behind them, watching the block for signs of assault, his ears sunk when he found it pulsing red. His attention was broken as Alsis pulled at his arm trying to break free of his hold. “Let me be Nactic, let me have this, I need it” New tears streamed down his face, but he could only see hate and anger in Alsis eyes. “No” answered Nactic “Not with how your acting” he yack on Alsis arm pulling him back near his side. Alsis glared at him, as he breathed in haggardly “Calm yourself Alsis, what are you going to do to them in this state?” Alsis closed his eyes and looked away from him. Nactic made his voice gentle, worked soul into his words to sooth Alsis distress.

 “I need you Alsis, looked behind us and see. You have no need to race off and met your fore when they come to you.” Alsis did as he said, saw the block pulsing, and the Wards engraved on its surface slowly fading. He smiled and stopped trying to break away from Nactic, he instead took deep breaths and hummed readying himself for what is to come.   

Nactic did the same as he flexed his fingers hoping that he wouldn’t be forced to call upon the Givers light. He had many Hearts on him but they wouldn’t last him long if things came to such blows. He rarely let his eyes wander from the block, only when his annoyance grew to the point he looked to see what was taking them so long to up their pace. He could only snort, as the Guards shrugged against even the smallest of Nightmares. Of all the soulless that plagued this realm, they had to be in control of the ones that were the weakest and near worthless.

The Anointed came to the same conclusion as they voiced “Remove them”, his brothers followed the command instantly, many already primed. The soulless didn’t have time to voice complaint as the passage was made clear with wind blades. They pressed ahead making as much distance between the Settlement and them as they could, Alsis fought him the whole time. He stopped when more of the soulless poured through holes in the tunnel and he had objects to vent his rage at. Alsis was being wasteful, to put it mildly, sending out Chants far stronger than he needed to. “Alsis please, you need to control yourself we don’t know how a long of journey awaits us.” Alsis didn’t even look at him as he fired off another Chant “I’m fine!”

All Nactic could muster was a worn sigh ‘Giver preserve him’. He would help keep him alive, but only so far, if Alsis truly wanted death, as his actions showed. Nactic wouldn’t stop him, not when it meant his own life would be at risk. He turned and left Alsis to his work, focusing on the commotion that blared at the head of the Flock. Nightmares so very many, and, he had to blink refusing the image before. As Carvers nearing the size of Life drainers opened new passages. His breathing quicken, panic ready to take him if he allowed it. He closed his eyes and mumbled his mantra letting the realm fade for a breath of time before he allowed himself to return. He had begged to the Giver that his eyes were deceiving him. But as they reopened the horror stayed true, no trick or illusion true death was near.

He turned back to look upon the Block its red hue distant but nowhere near enough for his liking, not anymore. ‘Giver please offer mercy this Rotation let th—“his mind froze as he witnessed the block shattered and a shock wave of air blasted into him. Enough that it knocked him easily off his feet as he crashed into his brothers. The world spun as he came to, his vision blurred, and he hacked up bleed. It took many tries to get his Soul to perform, to heal the many wounds that riddle his body. He was experienced enough to only heal what was needed, least for now as he ready himself to form a counterattack.

 He struggled to right himself, the act of sitting up straight an ordeal of its own. His hearing was dull, everything barely registering as his brother’s fired volleys into Nightmares that were surging from the now gaping hole.

He froze as he blood turned to ice, and he stopped breathing, stopped thinking as all of who he was focused on the thing that stared down at them. The Distance only showing them more of the colossal size of the creature that had come for them. Its appearance made it appear to be the father of the Grounders, standing on two heavy armored leg stumps. It towered over them, as it moved its four arms, molding stone to allow for its bulking size. Mostly deaf he still could hear, and feel the vibrations as stone shook from the mighty roar it let loose. His Brothers answered with their own call of arms, as the Givers light bathed them all. He shielded his eyes and used the time his brothers proved to heal his body.

When enough was done that he could move, he crawled away as the light still covered them. His brothers didn’t protest as he scrambled around them, their attention to focus on maintaining the Chant. When it finally ended Nactic had gotten himself to his feet, three lines of brothers ahead of him as shields. A small comfort as the light ebbed away to reveal that the Ancient was still standing. It was missing an arm and it suffered many cracks and cindered fresh. Fresh that glowed, and Nactic clenched his jaw, he had hoped the tales that these Champions had souls was a lie. Only added to make those that slew them more heroic. He knew better now, his blood chilled as he looked into its many eyes, a spark of intelligence, of knowledge held within. He gasped as the Ancient flesh glowed brighter and healed, before his eyes he saw its lost arm regrow, its cracked armor mend itself. The thing then spread its arms to them as if showing off a display, and to his horror, the thing mimicked a mockery of a laugh. Then it moved, rushing forward its bulk passing through stone as if it were water.

The lines of brother’s in front of him were caught off guard, still recovering from their last attack. By the time some started to raise barriers the Ancient was already on them. The arms of the beast glowed smashing away half-formed barriers and slamming into his brothers. Their bodies shattered, remnants of them raining down, Nactic would have been in their number if his legs hadn’t given out. He curled into a ball horror struck as fists passed overhead, sending the remains of his people everywhere. Those behind Nactic had been caught unaware, focused on their own fight keeping the Giants children away.  They had no time to react as the Ancient momentum had it crashing through the whole flock. Arms swinging, and feet stomping, in a few breaths, most of the flock was stains on the walls. Some had been lucky as Nactic the Ancient steps missing them as it passed, but it was searching now, as was the horde of Nightmares coming out of the stone, throwing themselves on the remains of his people.

He stifled a cry as he focused himself, carefully linking to the hearts that lined his robe. He breathed in deep as soul flooded into him, felt power flow through, felt what an Elder does. He glared at the Beast as it turned to him. He chanted his Soul quaking at the strain, the beast pointed its arms at him, he did the same. But Nactic was experienced had been through ordeals before, his attack struck first. Light bathed them, for a few moments all was right with the realm, him, his people above these vermin.

 Then it faded, and he looked upon an enraged beast. His attack had destroyed much of the things right side, and it was kneeling now, crying in pa--. No, its voice morphed, even more, disfigured as blood dribbled from its maul, but it was laughing. That’s when it registered that its two remains arms were still pointed at him, glowing. Its laughter grew louder as the things knowing eyes stared into him, seeing that Nactic had noticed he had failed. Its arms glowed one last time and the air in front of it rippled, rendering Nactic and everything else into another stain on the wall.

____________________

Axssen still submerged within the foliage, held his breath, calling for the Giver to look past all his faults and help him this Rotation. Sure he rarely offered words of kindness to her, but he figured he’s given enough sweet talking over the Cycles to call in a favor. Plant life came alive around him, leaves shuffling aside as streams of Nightmares moved about, all converging towards his home. ‘I hate the place sure, but not enough for it to come crumbling down, leaving me even worse off.’ That was the only outcome he could see as more and more of the creatures appeared from the shadows. He would have retreated by now found a less active spot to watch. But there was just too many near his position, their antenna flapping in the wind searching for people like him.

A cry of alarm nearly had him flinch, as one of his fellow scouts got found out. Alldis by the sounds of it ‘That idiot always thought he was un-spottable, unnoticed when he wanted to.’ his screams were cut short and Axssen had to focus very hard not to move his head and look for where the fool had got himself killed at. No, the Nightmares did the work him, as many turned to the true source of the sound rather than being confused by the echoes.

He nearly exhaled in relief as they began moving away from his vicinity, but he caught himself, he’d been at this long enough to stop newborn mistakes from making his miserable life even worse. A good thing too as he spotted stragglers reveal themselves from the dense leaves when no new sounds marked the area. ‘That’s right you clicking vagabonds leave me be.’ He stayed still a long while even after he was sure the things were gone, only then did he let himself partake in a deep refreshing breath. When nothing emerged from the extra vibration, he finally dared to move his screaming limbs. A few knots had formed in them, and he hoped that when he got back to safe grounds he would be able to get one of the Maidens to work them out. He didn’t need an arm to spams at the wrong time, like the way Doth met his end.

He did a double take moving his head only enough to get a clear view of the environment, his sensitive eyes finding nothing out of place, nor sounds that would convey living movement. So began his trek, a long loop around to the other side of the Settlement complex where he hoped no Nightmares dwelled in wait. Not that he had a choice either way, even if he by the Givers will made it past the swarms own scouts the Guards Wouldn’t risk opening a passage to let him in. ‘I could make a run for it, there’s another Settlement close by.’ The thought, plan though risky was very, very tempting, but had one major problem ‘I have nothing with enough Worth on me that they would let me in.’ No first he needed supplies, he needed to grab his stash of hidden goods. He recalled the numbers that had moved by him, and the many larger than norm Nightmares smashing their way through the forest. He knew the time might be up for this newest home he had been forced into. ‘Get in, grab some stuff, leave unnoticed, somehow make It passed all the hunger pests, and be allowed into a new home.’ He considered it, found that even with the risks, staying here was about equal. The Chanters will have him running about sending messages to or in tunnels that may have become overrun. So death was rather high no matter which choice he went with. He smiled ‘new home it is’ as that option came with the delightful addition of abandoning the Chanters that loved to make his life even more interesting.

His slow trot to a secure tunnel was becoming more difficult with every passing breath. Increasing numbers of the Nightmares made their way towards his home, larger ones, well fed and older than the ones he was used to. Their armor shells thick, with many marks and cuts showing these ones would be cleverer than the newborn. He took things doubly slow, as he wouldn’t be foolish enough to think that they weren’t also better skilled at finding people of his task. More than once he had to hide and remain perfectly still as the older ones looked towards his direction.

They stayed staring and if it wasn’t for the commotion from other less experienced members of his group the things may have gone to search in the area he laid. He grateful gave an offering to the Giver as the things left eager to join others in catching an easy meal.

It took him (now that he was walking slowly through brush) almost a Round before he reached a tunnel that appeared safe. He stared at the area a long while, looking for the smallest of changes, none appeared and he hurried as much as he dared. When he was close enough he leaned flat against the wall, his clothing matching the pattern and hues of the plant life. He took out the shard from one of his many pockets and held it against the block, tapping it. Sending the message to be let him, and for them to hurry. He added a few other things to get them moving, important information, problems, how not letting him in would get them all killed, the works. He fought hard not to grind his teeth as the breaths circled by. ‘Curse them, Giver, they deserve it, look how they treat me, it’s only fair.’ They finally opened the tunnel after the fifth curse he sent their way. He slipped through when the gap widened enough, as being revealed so completely by the Wards light was a sure death.

He had to blink a few times as his eyes readjusted to the change of value. When he finally looked at his slow-moving heroes, he found two fresh looking Guards. He frowned “It’s just you two? No higher member, someone with experience at opening doors?”

One of the fools spoke sounding irritated “We don’t need someone looking over us to open a door, were not newborn.” Axssen smiled thinly, his voice mocking “Oh, then while did it take nearly three Sequences for you two to let me in?! There isn’t much cover out there by that door, what if I had been running for my life, or a horde of Nightmares headed this way to attack. With me held up giving a report because two freshlings took their sweet time.” The one who spoke last glared at him and by the tension in his spearing wielding arm was thinking about gutting him. The other however looked worried “Is there really a horde of nightmares headed this way?” Axssen throw his hands up “Yes you idiots, now get out of my way.” He didn’t actually wait for them to do so as he rushed around them down the hall. Time was ticking, and he needed to get to the supplies before a mass of servants were tasked to gather goods for travel.

He dashed through tunnels stopping for no one even when they called out. None tried to bar his path a perk of his title, as people assumed he was in a rush to make a report. Everyone was still acting normally, no sense of alarm, that things outside were wrong, or that they should be readying the defenses. ‘Was I the first to return?’ or a thought occurred to him, was he the only one who made it through the swarm alive. He did hear quite a few of his brothers screaming out there. The less bright probably tried to rush a door attracting all sorts of attention to themselves. If the Guards didn’t open up fast enough, well that wouldn’t be the first time his kind died that way. Which meant he still had time, not much by how fast the horde was moving towards this Settlement. Word would spread quickly once people noticed Wards charging colors. Then people would be all over him, demanding answers of things outside, or why he was here and not completing his task.

That had him running faster, to the point even his lungs began to protest, but he really didn’t need to get bogged down by questions, he really didn’t want Chanters noticing him, having fun with him.

 He allowed himself a chance to recoup once he neared the entrance to a supply room. A lesser one, not worth enough to garner the need of Guards. He glanced inside, making sure no one was around, before darting in, and began moving crates out of the way. Far in the back, was a container that held his goods buried under stacks of fabrics. A collection of empty hearts, with one of them, actually filled, but it was rather small. His main item of value he had stolen out of spite some Cycles ago. When he was not bright enough to realize just how bad things would have been for him if he’d been caught. It wasn’t much just a small dagger with an equally small heart, it was almost useless to fight with. The last act of defiance against Nightmares when everything else was spent. But it was still a weapon, and those that fought at the front weren’t picky when things got bad.

His pockets were full by the time he had everything, and his heart began to pump hard. He was going to wait a couple of Sequences, not only to rest but because if he left running back the way he came too soon people he had passed would begin to wonder.

It was a long wait as his fears played at him, thoughts of getting caught with his goods on hand, or being spotted in this room, but the worst was when thought about the moment he would leave the tunnels and enter out into the woods. It was always a risk that moment of exiting was when he was most vulnerable when everything could see him easily. His fears were all the worse since he knew for a fact that a horde was heading here. That the door he used to enter may be swarming with the things when he tries to leave.

He breathed haggardly as he curled into a ball hiding behind crates as the time circled by. He sprang up when he couldn’t wait anymore and poked his head out of the entrance to see if anyone was around. Everything clear he sprinted as fast as he could, putting as much distance between him and supplies, only then did he pace himself. Tunnel after tunnel showed everything was fine, not a single Ward gave off warnings, it had Axssen furrowing his brows. He had seen the numbers outside, a swarm that would be more than willing to assault a Settlement. ‘Have they not found us yet?’ Maybe his brothers had been picked off so quick none got a chance to near a door. Without a hint of their general location, it would be some time before a Carver stumbled upon Warded stone.

He hurried along anyway, even with the threat more distant than he thought that was only better for him, and not something he would let slip away. He made sure a mark of anger and annoyance marred his face as he passed familiar people. Make them think he’d been given a new task, not to his liking. Guards and commoners alike stayed out of his way, assuming the obvious rather than he was abandoning them. It didn’t make him all that excited now, not when he look at people like him who were doing their best to get by. But the image of those smug Chanters and there, oh so important souls ripped apart by Nightmares kept him on his path. ‘They deserve it, Giver, your supposed chosen have earned this fate.’ He spent the rest of the trip avoiding people’s eyes, his sight kept forward no side glances to anyone he passed. Things were going well, then screams as Wards began to change colors, he sprinted full speed his heart hammering.

Some relief held him as he gazed upon the Guards and door leading outside unchanged, he slowed let himself walk the rest of the way as he caught his breath. “Back so soon?” Said the Guard with the eager arm. Axssen smiled thinly “The Higher ones have deemed that I am to be punished for taking so long to deliver such an important report. I’m to go back outside and gain an idea of the numbers that come for our home.” The worried one spoke, “We didn’t mean to get you in trouble, it’s just uncomfortable to have the door open.” Axssen gave him a larger smile “Nothing to apologize for, they were looking for any excuse, needed someone to go out there and I the unlucky one this Rotation.” The Guard nodded knowingly, as he and his less liking brother moved towards the door.

Placing shards on the block they waited for the signal that nothing living was close by, they look to each other and nodded, a breath later the door opened and Axssen dived through, pressing himself against the ground as he crawled towards a bush. He scowled when the door behind him closed fast enough that it made a loud clap that echoed. When he had some cover he laid still, let his eyes adjust to the dim lights of the forest. This was the moment that decided it all, everything around could have seen him make for cover. Easily guess his location or trace the sound that cursed door had made. He laid there for a quarter Round ears flexed, eyes searching.

Nothing, only the wonderful calm of the forest to answer his gnawing fears. He was so giddy he almost laughed, almost. Rising he tiptoed his way into larger mopping of leaves, where his clothes would truly help him blend in. With his pace slow, it took a while before he was far enough away that he was completely immersed in foliage. That is when he heard the shuffling of leaves and the clicking speech of Nightmares. His body froze and breathing went shallow. The things were making quite the racket, so much that if he truly dared he could continue his trek forward. He didn’t, instead, he leaned closer to a tree as he slowly turned his head in the direction the sounds were coming from. There in the distance, a horde of the things was headed down the path he had just come from, heading straight towards the door. ‘The Clap! Those damn fools just gave away their position.’ His blood boiled, as he thought that he almost could have been caught because those fools decided to slam the door shut.

‘Well, they're going to pay for it now.’ His ears itched to move into a better position as more sound occurred. He fought the urge and stayed perfectly still as more and more Nightmares made themselves known. He felt the ground under him shift, rumble, it was so faint that he put it out of mind his at first. But then it came again, and again, each time more powerful than the last. When it finally occurred to him, what the movement was. ‘Steps?’ the ground rumbled and Axssen blood went cold, he eyes going wide, as the creature smashed trees aside making room for its bulk.  It was held aloft on eight legs, its mainframe an oval, with four very long arms attached to it. His mind registering it similar to a Consumers, or as his group called them Deaths maul. It towered over all of them, it strides quickly taking it towards the section of wall that the door was merged with. Nightmares scuttled around their lord which stopped relative near the wall, Carvers pressed themselves against the wall and began pecking. Stone crumbled apart, but the things didn’t dig in one spot. No, he could tell they were searching, and with the numbers of them, it didn’t take long to find their quarry. A Carver's beak bounced off a section of stone, and all the Carvers turned their heads to it, others joining it in pecking till a large shape of the door was formed.

The Lord screeched the sounds sending a wave of agony through Axssen ears, Carvers and other Nightmares that were near the wall retreated. The Lord lowered itself, and one of its arms slide itself into a punching stance. The Arm glowed, a beacon of light in the dim surroundings. The arm shoot forward striking the door, surrounding stone shook, when the door remained intact the arm retracted and was launched again. The door caved in after the third strike, stone sent flying inwards to a tunnel that was pitch black. Nightmares stormed through a chorus of screeches as their war cry. Axssen heart hammered loudly in his ears, to the point he feared that it would give him away. The Lord's hands began to glow, it placed them on the stone wall. Rock morphed to its touch, and the Lord easily moved stone back shaping a tunnel large enough to let its own mass through. Axssen stayed still for a long time, even when every Nightmare was clearly gone, he stared transfixed at the large gaping tunnel. His memories of safety, comfort from the thought of Wards surround him, had become tarnished. In a handful of breath the Wards and been spent, he knew that wasn’t supposed to be how It worked. The Wards were to last them hours so they could make a choice. Now he wondered if his brothers inside were even going to get enough time to inform the whole Settlement that there is a breach.

He closed his eyes the image of the Lord still perfectly clear, a creature that his kind had no chance of fighting. The Guards wouldn’t even get the chance to strike the thing before they were mashed. Images of Chanters and their smug faces had his eyes open, he hated the thought that it would come to them to save the day. If those chosen bothered, ‘No they run, they always run when things look bad enough.’ They’ll have his group throw their lives away, just so the Chanters would have more time to ready themselves. ‘A curse upon your Chosen Giver, for they have earned it more times than I can count.’

He let his eyes scan the surrounds, his ear picking nothing out of the calmness that blanketed the forest. He stood, and began his slow trek to a new Settlement, wondering all the while of how long that one will last before he has to flee again.

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Freethorm

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Takhimar @Takhimar ago

Thank you for the chapter. While I like the main characters point of view, having these others really helps flesh things out.

Dreamheart_Dragon @Dreamheart_Dragon ago

I’m not sure what the point of this chapter is. It doesn’t seem to add much to the story, and has quite a few oddly worded bits and missing words too.

tyes77 @tyes77 ago

Thanks for the chapter though i kinda like focus on MC more Sad

Perrid13 @Perrid13 ago

I wonder what the “higher realms” are, where there is more magic in the air. Like higher physically, closer to the surface?

StorySeeker @StorySeeker ago

Was I the first to return?’ or a thought accrued to him, was he the only one who made it through the swarm alive.

thought occurred

His main item of value he had stolen out of spite some Cycles ago. When he was not bright enough to relieve just how bad things would have been for him if he’d been caught.

realize just how bad