Arcturian smashed his warhammer down, only barely missing Samalth as the man portalled back to join his companions. The three maintained their distance, their latest charge failed.
The Sovereign hovered before them, but his attention was partly focused elsewhere.
Arcturian knew that something was wrong. He could feel the mana thickening below him. Crimson eyes glanced towards a portion of the invading human forces that remained far behind where the combat was happening, sequestered within their own little defensive formation. They were doing something. Something big.
His fists tightened.
“Noticed it, have you?” asked Lemes smugly. ”Impressive. That formation has enough wards on it that even we find it hard to detect, and we knew that it was there. Still, it's too late to do anything about it now.” The man glanced to his companions beside him.
Beatrian grunted and Samalth nodded, a vicious grin on the stocky swordsman's face. “It is complete.”
Arcturian's eyes narrowed as the mana below suddenly dropped, the air growing startlingly empty in its absence. The forces battling below sensed the change as well and a sudden lull took over vampires and humans both.
Triviam and Valais shot alarmed glances to their surroundings, the sudden lack of mana sending them on edge.
Everyone was quiet, waiting.
For a moment the air was still.
But it was just a second of calm before the storm, and before Arcturian could do a thing, it came.
Golden mana exploded outwards from within the human ranks, thick to the point of being visible. It was almost suffocating in its quantity, and it saturated the air and ground both around it for hundreds upon hundreds of metres.
And it was only growing.
Like a tidal wave it spread side-to-side, above and below, easily piercing through dirt and rock as it did air, and it surged outwards.
The forces of the Faith seemed otherwise unaffected by the mana. A few even exulted as it washed over them.
The same could not be said for the vampires.
Screams of pain and anger burst from Arcturian's forces as the mana spread, their skin and bodies sizzling and cracking as it seared and burnt them.
Arcturian's eyes widened.
He recognized the mana instantly.
“Radiant mana...” he whispered. There were few elements a vampire feared more. Not even fire could harm them as easily and as severely as radiant mana could. Arcturian scowled as the mana surged far beneath him and towards the mountain.
Even from the distance, he could feel its presence gnawing at him. His immunity as a Sovereign rendered such things useless against him, but the screams of his people cut deeper than any wound or burn ever could.
His eyes grew blood-shot, more so than normal, and his fists clenched tight enough that his nails cut into skin as they elongated in his rage. Canines turned to fangs and he bared his teeth to the amused Just.
“The mana should do quite a number on any vampires left in the mountain once it reaches them, shouldn't it? Clean them all out without us having to risk our own men and women. A beautiful solution, if not a tad bit expensive.”
Arcturian shook with barely contained fury.
The audacity of the vermin to harm his people so in front of him.
His instincts roared at him to let loose. He wanted to damn everything else and kill them. To rip and tear until he was bathed in their lifeblood... but... his eyes snapped to the ring on his finger. White, still.
No matter how badly he wanted it, he couldn't.
They weren't far enough away yet. He had to wait.
He had to control himself.
Arcturian flared his blood mana, calling more from his resevoir than he'd had in decades, and allowed it to sink until it touched upon the ground below and enveloped his people. It helped to blanket them from the effects of the radiant mana to a point, but he couldn't keep it active forever. And his enemies knew that. The three Just immediately moved to attack him and Arcturian scowled.
He had to wait.
Just a bit more.
“Just a bit more!” hollered Flynn.
“Keep the ranks loose! Leave space to swing your weapons!” reminded Markus.
The group of vampires were making their way through the tunnel at blinding speed, all caution and care lost as they made a mad-dash for safety.
Their lives were on a counter after all.
They'd felt the mana wave pierce through the mountain and wash over them. Vampires had immediately started to shriek in pain, their skin sizzling and burning before Flynn's eyes. Even Markus hadn't been spared, a pained grimace showing on the man's face. Thankfully, the mana, hadn't had too much of an effect on Valachia and the woman had immediately blanketed the entire group with her mana, shielding them from the worst of it. They were saved, but weaker than before and they knew it.
Their burns were slow to heal and their strength was lower.
The mere presence of the radiant mana was enough to drain their energy over time, and they knew that they would die from too much exposure. Even Valachia was growing uncomfortable, her own immunity to the mana far from as complete as Arcturian's. She could weather it better than most, but not forever.
Not unlike Flynn, who seemed entirely unaffected by the mana wave.
The youth wasn't entirely sure why. He'd been made a vampire, and he should have suffered the same as the rest but the mana wasn't doing diddly squat to him.
It was a mystery, but one he was grateful for.
“Keep up, everybody. The end is almost here!” he called back. It wasn't. He had no idea how far the exit to the tunnel was, but people needed to hear affirming words in times of crisis and he was more than willing to provide.
The convoy rushed through the narrow space, their eyes hard and their breath heavy. The mana wave had been a blow, but far from enough to deal with them. They would make it through, Flynn knew. Nothing would stop the-”
“Halt!” called Markus, alarm obvious in the man's tone. Near a dozen pairs of feet skid to a stop and the air grew deathly quiet.
“What is it?” demanded Valachia. “We cannot afford to linger here.”
“My lady I sense presences coming at us from below. Fast.”
“From below? Humans?”
“No. Worse.” The vampire's eyes hardened. “Monsters.”
The woman's eyes narrowed as understanding dawned on her. “The mana... it's....”
“Drawing them up. The monsters, I mean.”
Arcturian swiped at the man. A shimmering radiant shield came to being to halt his blow. It was torn to pieces by his hammer but his swipe was delayed enough that Samalth could tear open a portal to whisk Lemes to safety.
Arcturian scowled at how thoroughly infuriated the spatial mage had proven to be. Still, he calmly allowed the three to regroup. He couldn't afford to go too far. Not whilst he was using his mana to cover his people, not that it was doing them much good. It was stopping the worst of the radiant mana from affecting them but they were still being slaughtered in droves by the humans, even if they were giving as much as they got.
Arcturian grit his teeth at the sight.
“It's a wonderful plan, isn't it?” asked Lemes. “We wanted to make sure we had a second hand to play, just in case your vampires prove strong enough to resist the radiant mana. A bit distasteful, borrowing the strength of monsters to do so, but then again, what better being to kill a monster than another monster, hmm?”
Arcturian saw red, but he controlled himself. He had faith. He truly did. Valachia would not fail him, and Flynn... the boy was the prophecized one. He would not fall on this day.
He glanced at the ring. White.
He would not.
They were falling.
Flynn wasn't sure how things had gone so wrong so quickly. In the seconds following Markus's announcement, the ground had begun to tremble and shake. They'd maintained their formations as best they could, and Markus had worked doggedly to maintain the earth around them, but it proved to not be enough.
The first to break through had been an earthen wyrm, and its appearence set off a chain reaction that saw the earth below their feet crumble away. The damn things had either been digging a pit beneath them, or their movement had weakened the stone enough that it gave way to a natural pocket of space in the mountain. Either way, they fell. The vampires tumbled through the air down the darkness. The fall was long enough to have been dangerous for all those involved, even as vampires, but Valachia would not allow such a blow to come.
She immediately cast a spell and a cushion of wind bloomed into being, slowing their fall so that they landed hard, but on their feet nonetheless.
Her eyed landed on Flynn and noted his safety before she turned her attention to the others. “Is everyone alright?” she called out.
An immediate chorus of yes's rang out.
“Wyrms! Below and to the sides!” hollered Markus before anyone had even the time to catch their breaths. The monsters burst through the ground, their mouths wide open and revealing rows of wicked teeth that tore through their formation with frightening ease. Magic filled the air as the vampires mustered their spells in response.
Shadow and ice and elements Flynn couldn't even identify assaulted the creatures, felling some and missing others. Cries rang out as vampires were bitten by the things and dragged away into the earth, their voices echoing in the space until it faded. The vampiric deniir had been one such victim, Flynn noted with a grimace.
“To the prince!” called one of his escorts. A ring of warriors immediately rushed to surround Flynn who was placed away from where the wyrms had sprung out of.
Spikes of earth lanced out of the ground and sheared through the three wyrms that had appeared, ending them with ease. But where one fell, more appeared.
They erupted from every direction, and Markus was frantic as he simultaneously called out those he could detect as well as fight the ones that had already appeared near him.
Valachia herself was busy using her wind and shadow to cut and entrap everything that entered her sight, all the while maintaining her mana blanket around them.
And Flynn stood by doing nothing, his sword raised, lost to the frantic action. Only a few wyrms had appeared near him, and those had been swiftly cut down by Valachia or Markus before he could even blink.
The youth felt useless, but knew better than to bog himself down with pointless thoughts.
“Why are these things attacking us?” he questioned.
“It's the radiant mana. It's driving them into a mad frenzy! They're ignoring our wards and attacking anything not of their own kind that they sense!” answered Markus as he bashed apart another one of the things. “Rear! Two more coming from below!” he hollered.
The vampires at the back responded with practiced ease. One of them was the old man, Banelyn. With their weapons drawn and imbued with sword and shield mana, they cut and bashed apart the wyrms almost as soon as they appeared.
“We cannot afford to stay here any longer, Markus!” stated Valachia as she calmly blasted one of the things into a wall. “How many more of them remain?”
“We're nearly done, mistress! Only one left! To the right, middle!”
The thing appeared from where Markus had marked, and was immediately cut apart by blade and magic.
It crumpled to the ground with half its body still in the earth.
“Markus!” called out Valachia and the man nodded.
[Shaper of Dirt and Stone]! Intoned the vampire, and the earth below them shifted in response, raising them up towards the tunnel.
Fifteen vampires had fallen in, and twelve managed to escape. Three lives snuffed out in a matter of moments.
Flynn chose not to dwell on it. He couldn't.
All he could do was move forward and hope to one day have the opportunity to avenge their loss.
No, not hope.
He would make it so.
It was a promise.