The air rushed past Alex’s ears as he fired himself toward Malcolm’s fallen body. He kept the modified Potion of Flight in his Wizard’s Hand, which was poised to squeeze at his will.
Spells fired at the xyrthak from behind him, drawing its attention, but the creature now seemed intent on singling out targets that were alone.
And Alex had broken away from the group.
He stifled a scream as it shot toward him, and he activated The Mark, focusing it on the act of flight. It improved his skill by the moment, teaching him every correct movement to maximize maneuverability. The others fired at it again and again, but it was still too quick and its armour too thick.
“Alex!” Theresa screamed, and she fired repeatedly, taking care not to hit him. One arrow bit home, but the xyrthak still fired its force beam.
Alex dived, shooting toward the earth, making the beam pass above his back. At the same time, he shot the Wizard’s Hand into its flight path, preparing it to clench and crush the potion bottle when it got close enough.
There was another hum.
The xyrthak fired at his spell.
The potion bottle exploded into the gaseous trap-potion, but the xyrthak screeched and pulled out of its dive before it could fly through the cloud.
‘Damn!’ Alex cursed.
It was being cautious. Too cautious.
He pulled out of his own dive, shooting forward and flying only a few feet above the earth. His other Wizard’s Hand removed another gas potion from his bag just as he reached Shiani’s group.
Hogarth and Svenia were helping the two young wizards to their feet and supporting them to stand. Each looked pale, sick and drenched in sweat.
“Malcolm!” Alex cried. “Malcolm, are you okay? I need you here with me!”
Malcolm was dazed, but didn’t look like he was suffering anything serious like a mana reversal. He and Shiani didn’t look like they’d be participating in the fight much more, though.
“Someone…beat that bloody knight,” Malcolm muttered, half-delirious. “Break his knee. Take that war mace of his hand and shove it down his-”
“Malcolm! Listen, I’m sure whatever you’re seeing has to be better than all this, but if it weren’t for Baelin’s spell, Rhea would’ve being bitten in half and I need you with me, man! Come on!” Alex used his voice not to scream at Malcolm, but to be loud and authoritative enough to get his attention.
The ice wizard shook his head.
A scream erupted and Alex whirled around.
He saw the xyrthak shooting past the flyers. Two more arrows protruded from it and it looked like one of Rayne's crossbow bolts had punctured a wing. The wizard was preparing another bolt for firing.
Caramiyus, however, was plummeting in a twitching, helpless wreck: it looked like he’d gotten caught in the scream. Thundar raced over and dove, catching the doberman-beastman before he hit the hard ground of The Barrens.
Arrows were flying from the tower. It looked like Eyvinder had recovered—speaking to his fortitude—but he was having no luck hitting the xyrthak from his range. He was gliding through the stone down the side, half-sticking out, with his eyes fixed firmly on Malcolm.
Alex turned back to the ice wizard.
“Listen, I think we can ground this thing, but I need you to cast a spell, do you think you can do that?” he asked.
Alex grabbed him by the shoulder.
“Focus, man! Adapt! Can you do it?”
Malcolm shook his head, and anger began to seep into his eyes. “I feel like my head’s about to explode…but I think I’ve got one or two more in me. You’d better have a good plan, though: I’m done if it catches me like that again.”
“If my plan works, it won’t be catching shit-all,” Alex said, glaring at the creature. “I just need one spell.”
Malcolm groaned. “Which one?”
“That teleportation spell you got, Call Through Ice,” he said. “Teleport this potion bottle-” He jerked his thumb at the potion. “-right in from of its stupid, piece of shit face.”
Malcolm looked at it. “And that’ll bring it down?”
“Absolutely,” Alex said. “Very likely, absolutely. It’s probably completely certain. There‘s a really good chance that it’ll probably work like I want it to. Most likely.”
Malcolm stared at him. “That doesn’t inspire confidence.”
“Well, trust me, it can’t hurt. You in?”
“I got nothing better to do.”
Alex looked back at the other group and shouted. “I need you to slow it down! Just for a split second! Anything you can do!”
“We are trying-”Khalik started saying.
“Leave it to me!” Rayne suddenly shouted, drawing gazes. “I’ll do it!”
Isolde looked alarmed; the potion of sensory enhancement let Alex see her expression even from this distance. “Are you sure?” she asked. “I don’t think-”
“Let me do this!” Rayne shouted again. “There’s no time, it’s coming for us!”
He unslung one of his crossbows and started to shoot higher into the air even as the xyrthak banked to the left and came in for another dive.
“Over here!” Rayne shot upward, breaking away from the group, presenting himself as a target. The xyrthak took the bait and dove for him with all of its speed.
Rayne fired his crossbow at it, and the others shot more spells, but it swerved left and right, avoiding most of their attacks.
Rayne shouldered his second crossbow and fired again.
The xyrthak responded by pointing its lance at him. The humming rose in volume.
Alex swore under his breath. “Malcolm, get ready!” he said.
Malcolm clenched his teeth and began to cast the spell.
Then Rayne turned and dove away from the xyrthak. It was clear that he had a lot more flying experience than the rest of them: he shot down toward the ground, barrel rolling as he went, keeping its attention.
It chased him, changing its angle. Rather than diving at the last instant like Alex, Rayne had given it plenty of time to correct its course and chase him. The flying wizard descended far quicker and more steeply than Alex had.
The ground swept up to meet him and then—at the last instant—he turned so that he was flying parallel with the ground. He was so close that he was kicking up dust as he flew.
The xyrthak followed him and tried to correct its dive, but Rayne had gone too low. If it did not slow, it would crash.
Its wings snapped out, slowing it for an instant. And it unleashed its cry.
Rayne screamed—getting caught in it—and crashed into the dust.
And for a few instants the xyrthak just hovered as it prepared to climb.
“Now, Malcolm!” Alex barked.
Malcolm finished his spell.
There was a flash of icy wind as what looked to be a tiny door of ice opened beside the potion bottle. It and the Wizard’s Hand spell were sucked through.
Alex felt the magic circuit disintegrate as his spell and potion disappeared from this plane and an instant later, popped out of the frozen portal right above the xyrthak.
Alex bit his lip, hoping that the brief time of going through the para-elemental plane of cold hadn’t ruined it.
Out of reflex, the xyrthak swept at the potion bottle with her lance.
There was a crunch of glass.
The bottle exploded, sending a cloud of aerosolized flight potion directly into the xyrthak’s face. The beast froze for an instant as the gas enveloped its head, then a sound like a gasp, then a violent sneeze erupted.
Another of Grimloch’s crossbow bolts slammed into its side, along with two of Theresa’s arrows.
Nua-Oge’s icy water spell splashed onto a wing, freezing parts of the membrane.
Then Najyah was swooping by and a glob of Khalik’s clay spell splashed onto the xyrthak’s wing, hardening in an instant. Several blasts hammered into its scales, but not enough to stop it, and it quickly began climbing again.
Alex watched, his heart sinking.
The potion hadn’t-
‘Wait,’ he thought. ‘Is it wobbling?’
The flying reptile sneezed, shaking its head, its flight a bit unsteady. Then it suddenly shot into the air.
The beast screeched as its flight went completely crazy: bouncing around in the air as if unseen hands were tugging it in different directions.
It zig-zagged, looped and rolled randomly: the potion’s corrupted flight magic sending it off course as the group stared on in shock. Screeches echoed through the air, and its wings flailed wildly as it desperately tried to right itself.
And then it shot toward the ground with all four limbs scrabbling at the air.
It hit the earth, kicking up a massive dust cloud. She screeched, clawed and scratched at the dirt as she tried to pull herself up.
And up she went, shooting back into the air.
The xyrthak flailed like a puppet as it went.
“Uh,” Hogarth said. “We should probably regroup.”
“Yeah,” Alex said dully. He couldn’t believe how well the potion had worked.
He heard a tired snicker come from just behind him.
“Yeah, you flail, you dirty, scaled vulture,” Malcolm laughed weakly.
They dragged their way to the other group as the flyers landed. Angelar was hovering protectively over Caramiyus, while Thundar gently picked up the fallen form of Rayne and returned to the group.
“Rayne? Rayne?” Thundar called to him, tapping at his face.
“How are they?” Khalik asked Angelar and Thundar.
“Rayne’s not dead. No mana reversal or anything, but he’s out like a burnt out candle,” Thundar grunted, and there was a note of respect in his voice. “Brave bastard. Can’t believe this is the same guy that flew away in the beginning.”
“Caramiyus is tough, too.” Angelar said. “He’ll be back on his feet, but I don’t know about any spell casting anytime soon.”
Caramiyus groaned in his grip.
Khalik glanced over toward Eyvinder who was still making his way back to the group. Then he looked up toward the scrambling xyrthak.
“Alex, you madman.” Khalik grinned ferociously. “Look at it! It is like a puppet whose master is being stung by scorpions!” His grin faded. “This is good. This will tire it immensely, but it will not finish it-HOH!”
All of them winced as the xyrhtak began firing random force beams in all directions in a panic as it tried to regain control of its flight and senses. Another twitch and it crashed back to the earth.
Its force lance tore a trench through the earth, kicking up a massive cloud of dust as its body dragged—clambering and screaming—along the ground. When it shot back into the air, Alex could see clumps of scales had been scraped off.
“By the elements, that is utterly horrifying,” Isolde gaped.
“If we were in an enclosed space, I think it would be smashed to pulp by now,” Theresa said.
“Indeed, but for our sakes, it is not unfortunately: how much longer will it be in this state, Alex?” Khalik asked.
Alex frowned. “Well, I brewed the potion to burn through its mana a lot faster than a regular Potion of Flight, and it's already been smashing around for about a few minutes. I’d say maybe another couple of minutes or so before the magic wears off.”
“Good, then we shall need to hurry and finish it off,” Khalik said as Najyah swooped down and landed on his arm.
Alex looked at him, as did the rest. “You got something in mind?”
“I do,” he said. “When your magic fades, it will be wounded, confused and dazed. This will likely bring it to the earth even if the potion wears off while it is airborne. And tired and wounded as it is, I doubt it will be able to fly well quickly.”
“True,” Theresa said. “But it’ll be a wounded animal: it’ll fight with everything it’s got left.”
“Mhm,” Khalik said. “Which is why I think we should close in, surround it, and bury it in our magic. Shiani, do you think you have a fireball in you?”
The young woman shook her head queasily. “It’s taking everything I have just to stand.”
“Hmmm, then it will be the hard way. We surround it from all sides and bury it with magic and arrows until it stops moving.”
Theresa grunted. “I don’t think that’ll work. Against a bear? Sure. But that thing is a hunter with a ranged weapon more powerful than any of ours: it can blast you wizards or use its cry to put all of you down, especially since it’s desperate and wounded.”
“Hmmm, a fair point, what would you suggest, then?” Khalik asked.
Theresa squinted, then glanced toward Grimloch. “How strong are you feeling?”
“Strong,” Grimloch said. “And hungry.”
“Good,” she said, her death-stalker face on full display. “I say you and me get in there, flank the thing and hit it with our spears. Give it something to focus on instead of letting it just blast everyone with that lance. Hogarth and Svenia can harry it with longbows too. Our task is to keep it pinned so it can’t get time to use its cry on the wizards.”
Nua-Oge paused, looking up at Grimloch. “Well, that’s a plan I know you’d like.” She looked at Khalik. “What about if you and I go next? Blast it with clay and ice to keep slowing it so it can’t get away?”
“I shall be there as well,” Isolde said. “My strongest lightning spells will require that I be closer than some of you others. You and I, Khalik, can resume flight and strike it from above with impunity.”
“Right, right, this is a good plan,” Khalik said. “Then Thundar, Alex, Angelar, Hogarth, Svenia and the wounded can be on the back-line.”
“I’ll run interference from above too,” Alex volunteered.
Malcolm snarled. “If Eyvinder’s recovered enough, he’ll spike it when he gets back.”
“Good, we got a plan,” Thundar said. “And right on time!”
They looked up as the xyrthak’s wild movements in the air suddenly ended, and it plummeted like a falling catapult stone.
It tried to fly, but still dazed, it couldn’t right itself before-
The ground shook as it crashed.
Thundar quickly cast body enhancement spells on both Grimloch and Theresa. The shark man handed Thundar his massive crossbow and bolts.
“Now’s our chance!” Alex roared, shooting into the air. “Let’s finish this thing!”