The Valkyries had made it to the pass before the horde. Some scouts were sent deeper in, to raise the alarm when the horde arrived. Some Earth mages were busy reshaping the terrain to better favor them. The one Arcanite mage was busy setting up some large-scale wards and buffs, sacred ground that when one of the Valkyries were standing on it, she would be stronger, faster, tougher.
Well. As long as the Valkyrie’s mana lasted. It was a rare build for a reason.
The pass was a bit too wide to collapse, too wide to build long walls tall enough to matter in time. Instead, the decision was made to get the ground as flat and level as possible, to allow the Valkyries and their companions perfect footing. 150 Valkyries and companions, side by side, with Sorok anchoring them in the middle, and they still all had plenty of room between all of them. At the level the Valkyries operated at, blows and swings were large and lethal, which meant for practical purposes, they could hold the pass.
Collapsing enough rocks that the clever, burrowing goblins couldn’t get through or around? An impossible task in the timeframe. Instead, narrowing the narrowest portion of the pass, and improving the terrain for the Valkyries and their mounts, took priority. No more ankle-breaking holes, no more awkward ledges that’d come up suddenly and break a raptor’s leg.
Alruna worked with Iona briefly to get [Dodging] offered to her, which Iona promptly took.
“Could probably get something a bit better if we had time and the records.” Alruna said. “This’ll do in a pinch. Now.”
“Sleep.” Alruna said, still in her full gear, lying down on a thin blanket. Between the size of the blanket and Alruna’s weight in her gear, Iona didn’t see it improving anything. Still. It was Alruna’s call. “We don’t know when you’ll get another chance.”
Iona mutely nodded, her stomach clenching and unclenching.
Hastily, she erected a small altar – really, just a stick stuck in the ground, with a crude symbol carved into the top – knelt down, and started to pray.
Selene. Lunaris. Hey again! Hope you’re doing well.
I’m going into battle soon. Don’t know if I’ll make it.
Hope I’ll be able to talk with you again soon!
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope it’s some time before we meet in-person. Like, I’m not opposed, but I don’t want to die just yet.
All the best,
Iona opened her eyes to two women standing next to her. They were wearing long, flowing robes, a radical departure from the leather and metal everyone else was wearing. One was dressed in soft yellow, the other in a light cyan. They were larger than life; one was taller than Iona, the other shorter.
“Iona. My child.” The first one, the tall one in blue, said, her voice like twinkling chimes in the wind.
“Iona. My friend.” The second one said, her voice the warmth of a meadow in spring.
The two voices spoke together, spoke as one, interweaving and overlapping.
Well, this was awkward. Iona had just mentioned not wanting to meet them quite yet, and, well, whoops. Here they were.
Awkward didn’t begin to cover it.
“You have a bit of a trial ahead of you.” They said, clearly highly amused.
“You’ve been faithful your entire life, giving with barely asking anything in return.”
“Except Lux.” Iona said, hardly daring to believe the words coming out of her mouth. Alruna was going to beat her black and blue for the sass.
Well, it wasn’t really sass. More like, correcting a potential…
Well. Goddesses didn’t make mistakes.
“We are sorry. She is dead, and gone.” They said, sorrow, raw and present, in their voices. “On this eve of the trial, we have a blessing for you, most faithful believer.”
Their voices split again.
“From me, sight.” Selene said, moving to one side of Iona, somehow still standing up, and kissing Iona’s right cheek at the same time. “The moons see all, and now you can see everything the System grants to any living being.”
“From me, comprehension and speech.” Lunaris said, kissing Iona’s left cheek. “May no language bar you. May you understand, and be able to speak with, all of humanity, elves and their ancient tongue, and every other tongue spoken under the vast sky.”
Iona’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly, tears streaming down her face, the tears somehow avoiding the two kisses placed on her cheeks, shining in the light.
The goddesses embraced her, one on either side, lifting her up from the ground.
“Of course. That’ll only help if you survive this.” They said.
And with that, they were gone.
A shimmering barrier of celestial light that had surrounded Iona vanished with them.
Sigrun was waiting there.
With a lot of other Valkyries.
“What the fuck just happened?” She demanded.
Getting to the head honcho’s attention had not been on her to-do list.
A long interrogation later, some practice with her blessings, and the Valkyries mostly left Iona alone.
Iona mentally cursed Alruna for sleeping through her entire ordeal. Although, it would be just like Alruna to crack an eye open, see they weren’t under attack, and figure whatever the problem was could be managed the next morning.
Iona noted with more than a bit of amusement that after Sigrun’s interrogation of her, and the Valkyries confirming that, yes, Iona was now goddesses-touched, an absurd number of makeshift altars had been raised, with a number of squires and knights kneeling and praying to whichever god they worshipped.
Suddenly, everyone had found religion. The gods and goddesses directly manifesting tended to do that to people.
Sigrun had been slightly pissed that Iona’s blessings didn’t seem to directly relate to the fight at hand, and had cursed thoroughly that she didn’t get something like “one against one hundred thousand” or some absurd blessing that would save them all.
She’d been extra-pissed when Iona had said that she didn’t think she could call down a miracle. “What’s the fucking point of fucking religion if you can’t fucking call down a fucking miracle!?” Sigrun had yelled, before storming off.
Iona hadn’t realized that Sigrun’s cursing could be quite so verbose. It was like she worked in swears the same way others might work in oils or clay.
She settled down on a blanket, the butterflies in her stomach gone. Entirely.
Iona spent some time trying to identify what she was feeling.
It was… peace.
Iona had gotten her biggest hopes, her biggest fears, validated. Lunaris and Selene were out there. They heard her. They listened. They knew of her.
They had blessed her.
They had let her know that Lux was gone, forever. No divine intervention would fix or change that. It was freeing, in a way.
There was clearly something of an afterlife. If the gods were real, there had to be something after death, right? “Gone” wasn’t entirely annihilated, right?
Either way. Iona was much more ready to meet the goddesses again.
Iona laid down on her own blanket, staring up at the sky. She blinked, and –
And the sun was coming up, as scouts were running through the camp, yelling that the horde was almost here.
Iona scrambled to get Trikey something vaguely resembling breakfast, since it was likely his last meal.
“Sorry they’re not apples.” Iona whispered to Trikey, patting him on his beak-like snout as he chowed down. He nuzzled Iona, almost bowling her over. How aware was he? Did he know this was probably the end for him?
“Iona. MOVE!” Alruna yelled at her, and Iona scurried over to Alruna’s side, to help secure the straps that would keep her attached to Trikey, for better or worse. She got the last strap set, as Alruna threw a pack at her.
“Yours. Get to Sorok.” Alruna ordered, then flicked Trikey’s reins to get him into position.
Iona grabbed her shield, slung it over her back, then took her pack – much heavier than normal – and ran through the camp, dodging all manner of other Valkyries, companions, and squires getting ready. She made it to Sorok, with two long rope ladders leading from the platform down to the ground.
One for going up, one for going down.
Iona grabbed the ladder, and nimbly climbed up to the top.
“Goddess-blessed.” Hrund said at the top, greeting her.
“Don’t give me that. Please.” Iona said. “I haven’t earned a title, and-“
Iona couldn’t bring herself to say “it wasn’t a big deal”. Because it was. Effortlessly understanding all the languages Sigrun had thrown at her last night had been eye-opening, to say the least.
So was seeing Sigrun’s stats, not that she’d ever admit to peeping.
What sort of monster had three well-developed classes before 40?
“Still! I can’t believe they let you class up because of that! How’d they get permission?” Hrund asked Iona.
Iona winced at the memory of Sigrun tearing into her over classing up without permission, all while Alruna had blissfully snoozed. Not fun. Sigrun had blessedly ended it by throwing her hands up, and promising to punish Iona once this was all over.
Iona really, really, really hoped that Alruna was right, and that if they lived, she’d be let off scot-free. With the way Sigrun’s eyes had promised murder, Iona almost wanted the goblins to get her.
Still. Iona didn’t want even the misconception to spread. She interpreted her [Vow] to correct misconceptions that she herself inadvertently spread.
At least, that’s what Iona told herself.
“Alruna told me to. Said I’d either end up dead here, or get forgiveness.” Iona said, giving Hrund a Look.
Hrund understood it.
Iona got a bow, and found where the arrow stashes were. They were deeper on the platform. It was going to be obnoxious, shooting a dozen arrows, then running back for more. At the same time – the platform swayed and moved with every step Sorok took, with every sweep of his giant tail. Too close to the edge, and things risked tipping over.
Hence some safety railings.
Iona looked around from her position on Sorok, high up above the battlefield.
The Wobby pass was a bare, rocky pass, a relatively thin slice through the mountains, with high rocks on either side. Impossible to climb, even for the bold and tenacious goblins. It was cut so deep, and so sheer, that rumor, accepted as fact, was some great blow by a creature with thousands of levels had made it.
The local geography demanded that creatures – or goblin hordes – emerging from certain places all needed to travel through this one, relatively thin pass.
Of course, it was still wide enough that 150 Valkyries and their mounts, Sorok included, all arranged side-by-side, still had significant gaps between them. They couldn’t dismount and lock shields together like legions of antiquity.
The flip of that was, each Valkyrie had enough space to strut their stuff, to fire off their largest, most powerful attacks without fear of hitting each other. Additionally, it meant they could all be mounted.
Iona looked down, enjoying the perspective for a brief moment. Sorok had turned to the side, letting all the squires not mounted with their knight be on a single side, facing the incoming horde. They were all issued a fairly standard bow, with three of the squires having snagged longbows, being specialized in them. A half-dozen Valkyries were also on Sorok, both not having a companion, and having skills more of the long-range variety.
“Heya Iona.” Hrund said. Iona glanced at her with her new blessing, and saw that Hrund had taken the chance to class up as well.
A quick look down the line of squires showed an overwhelming majority had gotten a similar sort of talk. There was barely a squire at 128 left.
Can’t be executed if you were dead.
“Shame we don’t have a Forbidden Four mage with us.” Hrund said. “They’d be perfect for this.”
Iona looked at Hrund standing next to her with shock.
“They’re illegal! The only thing they’re good for is mass-murder!” Iona protested.
“Yeah, but… isn’t that kinda what we’re doing here?” Hrund pointed out.
Iona opened her mouth, thought about what Hrund was saying, and closed it.
She hated to admit it, but Hrund was right. A Forbidden Four mage would be perfect right now. Deadly clouds of Miasma, aerosolized poison, or self-replicating spores would do horrible things to the goblin horde. Illegal in every civilized nation, which didn’t stop a number of them from keeping a few hidden, in reserve.
Nobody – not even the tiny Nime nation, who openly strutted a number of Forbidden Four classers, promising a terrible toll on anyone who tried to invade – would condone or tolerate a Void mage. They tended to randomly explode, and take out whole cities with them when they did. At a minimum. Nobody quite knew why.
A few times in history, a brave man or woman would take a Void mage class, and attempt to take meticulous notes, which were immediately sent out from their location. An attempt to record their skills, their experiments, to see what was happening.
Some would randomly blow up. Some lived long lives. There was no difference detected between the two.
Nor had a Void mage managed to – with what scarce records there were – deliberately blow themselves up. It was hit or miss, seemingly entirely random.
One extremely high-level researcher from the School of Sorcery and Spellcraft had two classes devoted to survival and self-regeneration. The best tank of several generations. She took a Void mage as her third class, went to the wilderness, and attempted to cause an explosion.
She survived, had no idea how it had happened or what she did differently, and swore off using Void magic, switching into something a bit more reasonable.
Void warriors, artisans, laborers, and more were all permitted and allowed. Mages were not. Similar to how Spore was one of the best elements for a farmer. A level of fear and paranoia surrounded the element, and people who decided to walk the path were well-advised to keep their Void element as their highest class, so they’d identify properly. Otherwise, mayors, magisters, and mobs didn’t have a very high tolerance towards people with the Void element.