A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hello everybody! Welcome to booook twooooo!

Excited to continue walking with you. So not going to lie, I was tempted to name this chapter Indefinite Hiatus is a joke, but you all would kill me and I would deserve it hahahha.

Alright let's get to it!

“This isn’t working!” Drestra’s cry swept through the night.

The Sage of Uldar floated high above a circle of standing stones that rose from a misty hilltop. She chanted spells in a voice that crackled like fire; her golden, reptilian eyes seemed to glow above the veil covering her face. Her form was ringed by a golden globe of force, while spells poured from her outstretched hands like an endless river.

Fireballs shot down the hilltop like a meteor shower, exploding into roaring columns of flame that boiled the marsh below the hill.

Between two of the megalithic stones, The Champion of Uldar chopped through monsters with his massive sword. The blade—crafted from a hive-queen’s pincer—sliced through mud coating his foes. Hart Redfletcher’s half-mad laughter boomed above the clash of battle and the gurgles of dying monsters and humans.

Surging toward him were clots of muck, soil and clay barely held together in the form of dripping humanoids. The muck-warpers’ misshapen heads rippled as they climbed the hill; partly formed mouths yawned open below dark holes where eyes should have been. The muck was thick enough to suck most weapons in, but Hart’s sword cleaved through it with ease, splitting apart the monsters beneath.

They fell in twitching heaps. In death, the mud flowed away, revealing ashen-skinned, humanoid creatures with bodies as thin as bird-bones. They looked like a child’s stick figures, and appeared feeble, but the magically, animated mud coating them gave them an unnatural strength.

And there were a lot of them.

A scream rang out.

Two sides of the hilltop were defended by formations of experienced knights supported by the miracles of a group of priests of Uldar. They’d formed tight lines between the standing stones, using them as cover, trying to keep their foes at a distance. Often a weapon thrust at the monsters would become stuck in the magically-viscous mud protecting the muck-warpers.

A knight stabbed through the muck—trying to pierce the muck-warper inside—but the blade sank in with a wet sucking noise, holding it there. As the warrior fought to free his blade, the creature’s fist slammed into his helm like a mace, dropping him in a twitching heap. A priestess rushed to the knight from within the standing stones, desperately chanting a prayer to Uldar.

Behind her lay a host of injured knights; priests worked to mend them, but for some it was too late, and they breathed their last breath.

“We cannot hold them forever!” Drestra chanted a new spell. Two balls of flame rose from her palms and shot toward a mass of monsters menacing the knights. The orbs spun together and exploded in a tornado of flame. It roared like a hungry beast rolling downhill, sucking monsters and air inside.

For an instant, the night turned as bright as daylight.

Hart’s laughter boomed even louder.

“That’s it Drestra, get the great dirty bastard’s flounderin’!” Cedric of Clan Duncan shouted.

The Chosen of Uldar could feel the heat from Drestra’s tornado of flame and watched as fire blew muck-warpers to ash by the dozen. But past the clouds of steam in the boiling marsh, he saw something grim.

In all directions—under the light of moon and fire—muck-warpers filled the marsh, lurching toward the hill. Hundreds of them, by his reckoning.

An endless tide.

A worthy challenge.

Cedric of Clan Duncan roared, his red hair blowing in the backdraft of Drestra’s flame. “Keep up the pressure, lads and lasses! We’ll get ‘em dead as the dirt they shovel over themselves!”

He was defending the side of the hill opposite Hart and threw his might at the horde of monsters surging toward him.

His Haste spell doubled his speed and Uldar’s holy power ran along his weapon, letting it shift form like living quicksilver. One moment he was piercing the tiny, withered heart of a muck-warper with a spear. The next, he was cleaving two apart with an axe. Then he was blocking a blow with a shield, which then shot a profusion of spikes straight into the monster’s ‘face’.

Cedric spat out an incantation: magic infused his voice and his battlecry struck the air like a hammer. A blast of pure, booming energy crashed through the muck dwellers, blasting the creatures apart and giving him room to catch his breath, however briefly.

The Chosen of Uldar stepped back between two of the gigantic standing stones and glanced over his shoulder.

Hart was killing as many as Cedric with pure, Mark-enhanced speed, might, and skill. The Champion’s gigantic sword moved in his hands with the swiftness of a dagger, and muck-dwellers fell by the dozen. He showed no sign of slowing.

Drestra, though, had poured out enough magic to exhaust Cedric’s ten times over. “My magic is waning, and they’ll overrun us! Damn your eyes, Merzhin! Aren’t you done that prayer yet!?”

Below her floated a slight figure.

Merzhin, The Saint of Uldar, sat cross-legged in mid-air. His hands were clasped in front of him. The voice that left his lips—quoting the scripture of Uldar—was so high and delicate that it seemed a breeze could break it.

Yet, the ethereal voice did not pause. It did not stutter. It was strangely serene, as though its owner was sitting in the quiet surroundings of a church, not a battlefield.

“Them muck dwellers’ can’t be fightin’ us forever!” Cedric called to Drestra as he turned back to their foes. “We bloody have ‘em! Just a bit more! Merzhin’s near done!” He levelled his hand at the enemy. “Oh, Mighty Uldar, I ask you to bring forth your hand and make your enemies kneel!”

Divine power blasted through him—using his soul as a conduit—and was launched from his palm. It slammed into the horde, outlining many in white light. The Ravener’s monsters froze, then shuddered as they were slowly brought to their knees in supplication to the divine force that held them in its grip.

Some burned as the power rejected their very existence, but others swarmed past. Transforming his weapon into a long halberd, Cedric cut down the few who’d gotten by.

And then Merzhin completed his prayer:

“And lo, did Uldar will the lush realm of Thameland to His people upon His ascension. At last, His people no longer suffered from hunger. They wanted for naught and they did have plenty even in the icy abyss of winter. And so did the seasons pass, and His people bore proper pride for their god.”

Merzhin’s eyes opened and a white light poured from them. “While His enemies knew only to fear Him. Season. After passing season. For Thameland is His domain. And He rejects all those who encroach therein.”

Something shifted.

Cedric’s soul shook. A massive presence filled the air.

Divine might poured into Merzhin like a river.

“These grounds are hallowed by my blessing,” he pronounced, looking down onto the monstrous horde. His face was childlike, but the wrath filling it was…ancient.

The Ravener’s monsters paused their advance, watching as a terrible radiance built up around the mightiest of Uldar’s holy.

Then the air began to shimmer.

The Saint’s hands shifted until both matched the image of Uldar’s hand in his holy symbol. “These grounds are hallowed,” he repeated, and his voice seemed to echo from every tree and stone. “And they reject you.”

Then the world changed.

Heat suddenly spiked around the hill, like in the height of summer. Leaves and grass grew before Cedric’s eyes. A heartbeat later, autumn’s wet chill lay in the air. Grass withered and trees shed shriveled leaves. Then the wind howled from the north bringing with it winter’s embrace. The marsh froze, growing barren and choked by frost.

A heartbeat later, greenery sprang up again and the air smelled of fresh rain. Then the heat. Then the withering. Then the ice.

“The seasons…” Drestra murmured. “They are changing before our eyes.”

The army of muck-warpers writhed as the mud cloaking them froze and thawed a host of times in just as many heartbeats. Some of the mud hardened and flaked away, turning to dried soil. The stick-like bodies were exposed.

As the seasons changed with ever increasing speed, Cedric saw the ravages of time fall upon the creatures. It bent their backs, withered their flesh, and stole the strength from them.

Soon, they lost all ability to stand.

At last, they fell.

The passing seasons slowed.

The temperateness of spring returned. Plants were green again, strong and healthy. The Ravener’s monsters all lay dead where they once stood. An endless tide of living creatures had been reduced to dried out corpses.

“Bloody hell,” Cedric murmured.

“Language,” Merzhin chastised him as he descended.

His bare feet touched the earth, then he abruptly dropped onto his rump. The Saint panted from his efforts and was drenched in sweat. “Pray to Uldar that this will be the last ambush we endure; I doubt I can call on his power again for at least a day.”

“Hah, you did your share and then some.” Hart whirled his blade to flick off muck-warper blood, then rested it on his shoulders. “Too bad they don’t have anything to plunder: you’d have earned the greatest share of all of us.”

His plate armour—crafted of both fine steel and monster shell—clanked as he re-entered the circle of stones.

As the glow faded from his coal-black eyes, Merzhin pressed his slender fingers and palms together. “We thank you Uldar for delivering us from this plight. We ask that you find us pleasing and bless us. Let those that dwell here speed swiftly to your side. Let us continue to worship you not just through words, but through works.”

Cedric looked up at Drestra. “Oi, you feel anymore of the Ravener’s mana about or are we clear?

“I sense nothing,” a low growl issued from her throat as she landed beside Merzhin, looking down at him. “Nothing but death. Five moonlit nights. Five times we were ambushed here. Five times we nearly die.”

“I wouldn’t call this nearly dying. Most of us are alive.” Hart shrugged, marching over to the knights. “Well fought. We’ll honour the fallen.”

“There would be less fallen, if you had acted differently, Merzhin,” Drestra said quietly. “If you had taken much longer, I would’ve run out of mana. As it is, we will be in trouble if there’s another attack soon.”

“Nothing to worry about.” Hart shrugged. “I won't run out of ‘sword’. I’ll protect us.”

“Hart, this is serious. Merzhin, if you took any longer-”

“I was channeling our god’s divine power,” Merzhin said in that high, clear, unbothered voice. While he was the same age—eighteen—as the other Heroes, he looked at least three or four years younger. His eyes held none of that youth, though: they looked hollow, like a dead man’s. “Uldar must have the proper love and praise delivered before I might channel his will, Holy Sage.”

“And you have to go through an entire church sermon to do that?” Drestra gestured to the priests. “They finish quickly, same as Cedric.”

“Well now, quality takes time don’t it?” Cedric came forward with an easy smile on his face. “I do my little miracles, aye, but I don’t turn entire armies of monsters to dust.”

We would’ve been dust if he'd taken any longer!” Drestra snapped. “The war grows more difficult. Ambushes. Dungeon cores multiplying every time we destroy one. Lands regained only to be lost to us again.”

“Well, we lived, aye?” Cedric clapped Drestra on the arm. The witch pulled away, still glaring at The Saint. The Chosen fought to keep his easy smile.

He’d witnessed this exact situation with young warriors within his clan. When a hunt, raid or battle was costly, tempers flared. He thought hard on how the elders diffused brewing fights like this.

“Holy Sage, I feel your fear,” Merzhin said, dragging himself to his feet. He was much shorter than Drestra. “Know that Uldar’s will has never once failed The Heroes of Thameland. We have always succeeded: cycle after cycle.”

“But this cycle is worse,” Drestra pushed. “Why are you arguing with me? My spells fly like arrows, and I have seen you channel Uldar’s power quickly: why choose such a time-consuming miracle?”

“To scour the monsters completely, Holy Sage.” The Saint stepped from the centre of the circle and looked onto the battlefield. “In one mighty display of our god’s power, we have wiped away the wicked creatures and sent them to return to the soil. A less potent miracle may have let some escape. Baron Lorrick’s force is a day behind us: they would have been free to harass his camp.”

“Enemies that are scattered are easy prey,” Drestra said. “In the Crymlyn swamp, we have scattered armies with hit-and-run tactics and spells that cause panic. Then we were able to hunt them at our leisure.”

“And some might have escaped,” Merzhin’s dead eyes held Drestra’s reptilian ones. “There can be no compromise. No room for anything but complete extermination. Down to the last creature, Holy Sage.”

“I have a name,” Drestra snapped.

“Would it please you more if I used it?” Merzhin asked, his voice still keeping that serene calm. “I feel as though you are not too fond of me. If this is about the church’s censure of the witches, then that is history long passed-”

“You keep bringing that up, and I tell you it is not!” Drestra snapped.

Hart suddenly laughed.

Drestra shot him a look. “You find this amusing?”

“No, no, I was just thinking-” He snorted. “-that Merzhin might call our fifth—if they aren’t dead—‘Holy Fool’ all the time. Enough to drive anyone mad. And honestly, you’re both being ‘fools’ right now. We lived. We should be drinking, not arguing.”

Drestra stared at Hart.

Merzhin was unreadable.

“Nothin’ for it, nothin’ for it,” Cedric said. “Let it go. Grudges like this’ll fester surely as any poison. You’ve been in battles before, aye? Hart-” He nodded to the badge on Hart’s armour, indicating his membership in the Ash Crows. “-you know how it goes. Sometimes positions get messed up, or allies take longer to get somethin’ done than they should.”

“If we die, we die,” Hart said, drawing a hiss from one of the priests. “We fight until one day something outfights us, and that’s the end of that.”

Merzhin’s head slowly turned toward the mercenary, his neck barely moved. “You do not take our struggle seriously, Holy Champion?”

“I want to live, but sometimes what you do just ain’t enough on the battlefield.” He looked at Drestra. “Best make peace with that. You can greet death or you can fight death: fighting it just means you’re more tired when it takes you.”

She made a noise of disgust. “Well, I want to live through this.” She looked at Merzhin. “If you wish to risk your own life, then that is your choice. But I have years to live and a home to return to: be swifter with your choice of prayer. What do you think, Cedric?”

“Well, it turned out alright, didn’t it?” he said. “We blew ‘em apart and now we got a cleared way to finding their dungeon. All’s well.”

“I see. All’s well, then.” Drestra looked down at the slain knights covered with shrouds. “Tell that to the fallen. Perhaps next time it will be one of us lying dead on the ground.”

She floated up into the air again. “I am going to settle on a stone and keep watch. Good night.”

She flew away.

“Hrm,” Hart frowned, looking at Merzhin. “Maybe try to pick it up a half step next time. Drestra can just fly away if she doesn’t like where things are going. We’d be cut into dog meat without her magic. Eventually.”

“I shall endeavour to hurry our mighty god along,” Merzhin said with a wry humour. His thin smile faded and his voice rose so that Drestra could hear him. “But in the end, we cannot compromise with the enemy. All must be put to the sword, the spell, and the holy word. We fight not only for ourselves but for our people. For our descendants. Heroes have been killed in combat with The Ravener’s forces before: but Thameland endures. Uldar’s will endures. If one of us falls, then the others will have a greater struggle…but Uldar’s will always triumphs.”

There was a long silence, and Cedric looked at the knights and priests. Some of the priests were nodding vigorously. Some were quiet. A few of the knights’ eyes burned with passion, but the majority seemed weary at the speech.

Cedric could see the hope of home and hearth in their eyes.

And the fear of death.

Again, there was that shrug from Hart. “The sword falls how it falls.”

He turned and walked among the knights, who were looking at Drestra and Merzhin with uncertainty.

Cedric nodded to them. “Good work tonight, all o’ yous. Let’s all get us a wee bit o’ rest while can, ‘cause it’ll be tough as leather tryin’ to find the dungeon in the morn’.” He looked at Merzhin. “You did good. Maybe next time you can push it a touch quicker, though. Battles’ve been gettin’ harder, and we’ll be needin’ to finish our enemies quickly.”

“…I see, Holy Chosen.” Merzhin frowned. “If only the Holy Fool were with us, then perhaps such little petty spats would be diffused.” He sighed. “They are likely long dead, though the search must continue.”

“Aye,” Cedric said. “But maybe wherever their soul is, it's a tad nicer than here.” He looked over at the withered monsters and dead knights. “You said that the ground is hallowed…but it looks more hellish to me."

A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

And so we see what the Heroes are up to. I LOVED writing this chapter. Not going to lie, I grew up on action fantasy series like Legend of Drizzt and Gotrek and Felix, so I love writing fight scenes like this. 

They're fun. 

Here's to book two! Let's goooooo!

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