An assault on a Machorian stronghold doesn't go as planned.
|The Denurian army briskly marched forwards across the open plains, trampling the dried grass underfoot with every step, their armor rattling and hoofbeats resounding through the area. The sun scorched their bodies, its heat unrelenting on their plate and leather. The eastern continent of Varintha varied from lush green hills to the orange-tinted deserts, to snowy mountains further at the northern point. Aurelia Sethoran marched on, sweat in every nook of her robes and underclothing, sand in her boots and places she’d rather not wanted it to be. Their target loomed up in the far, far distance; no more than just a small dark shape on the horizon. They all knew the size of the outpost they were about to raid; even though it wasn’t as large like the ruling fortress of their enemy it still proved to be a formidable structure. Or at least so she heard from her companions.
Enormous outcrops of sand-coloured rock littered the distance around them, some were eroded in such a way it was like a natural bridge had formed between two of them, and she could only do so and admire their beauty even in a place and time like this. A dry wind whistled around them and her mouth felt incredibly dry. So much for freeing prisoners of war… she thought as an uneasy feeling boiled up in her. She was no stranger to war nor pain. Having suffered so much the past years only made her even more determined not to give up and get up after each fall. For some, it was routine; cast, kill, move on. For her, every death caused by her hands was carved in her mind like a sickness without a cure.
“You’re not a monster,” their commander had told her, “but you’re dangerous if unleashed.” And thus they had kept her under close watch after reading her files. What little freedom she had was now sealed by the military. As her boots drummed in rhythm with the rest she took in her surroundings. Their army had been considerably larger at the start of the long weeks before the raid; they had lost numbers to Orc ambushes in the night or during travel, some had been poisoned by Machorian spies or captured and taken away. Their force now marched two-hundred men and women strong, both veterans and new recruits, of all ages and races. The Army didn’t care who it recruited as long they were willing to fight for the same reason: peace. Some chatted aloud in attempts to lighten the mood but the bulk of them remained silent, their faces hardened and focused on the distant yet growing fortress. She turned to a young soldier next to her with a stocky build and short cropped hair. The tension in his muscles reflected in his movements, his jaw set tightly.
“Hey.” she began, clapping a hand on his shoulder. He jumped a little. Poor man…
“First time out in the field?” He nodded, gripping his staff a bit tighter.
“Not the first war I’ve seen, but it’s the first one where I’m fighting with the army.”
“So you’re a second-year? That would make sense, seeing the army won’t let first-years fight.” she replied, trying to ease his stress a bit by distracting him.
“Indeed. I hope we win this,” he turned his face towards her, a weak smile on his lips. Aurelia saw the uneasiness in his eyes, panic almost. “so we can all go home.”
She focused on the backs in front of her again. Preparing for battle wasn’t something she was good as; everytime they neared their target her pulse would skyrocket, breathing would speed up slightly and she could feel her energy stirring beneath her skin. The anger inside her told her to unleash all she had, to destroy their enemy with a few quick blasts. But she remained calm, forcing herself to stay focused on her target instead.
She spend the rest of the march in silence, most of the chatter had gone silent as well now they were nearing their target. The commander rode ahead slightly with his lieutenants, his confidence radiating off him towards the army like so many times before. When the fortress’ iron and stone wall loomed up before them everyone held their step as one. The gates were wide open.
“What in the blazes…” she muttered in utter surprise. Raiding a stronghold never should be this easy. Their commander, however, thought differently. He turned his horse towards the waiting army.
“Well, seems like the enemy isn’t as smart as they thought.” he roared with a grin before dismounting and unsheathing his sword at his side. “Today, we will conquer this stronghold!” As an olied machine the whole army followed him through the wide-open gate, and Aurelia couldn’t help but feel the uneasiness reach its boiling point when she set foot inside the clearing.
From the moment the gates closed behind the army, they knew they were in trouble. In a matter of seconds their commander’s confidence dropped, making place for the slightest hint of panic now they were trapped. Distressed shouts and muttering of confusion welled from the soldiers, some trying to find a way out by looking around them, but to no avail.
Their initial mission had been to secure the small Machorian stronghold east of the continent of Varinthia, to gain ground for their army and rescue the prisoners of war. It should all have gone according to plan; their spies had reported back a week earlier with no sightings of potential danger and thus their commander prepared an attack on the base. But now they stood under the smoldering sun with sweat dripping from their faces and sand in every nook of their armor. The clearing before the towering iron-wrought stronghold stretched in half a mile radius, surrounded by stone and iron walls and their only way out lay behind them. Those gates had just shut tightly as their last soldiers passed through, trapping them inside.
Not only had the Denurian army realised they were tricked far too late, they now saw breaching the stronghold gates wouldn’t be an easy task either. A huge elemental loomed before the enormous gates and roared ferociously at the advancing army of roughly two-hundred soldiers, spellweavers and healers. It was absolutely massive in terms of height and width, easily standing twelve feet tall with a body made of solid, black gleaming rock. It looked vaguely humanoid with shapes resembling hands and legs on which it supported itself, hunched over so it sat on all fours. Its head was perched in the middle of its colossal body with a maw of burning fire, a spike of sharp stone on top of its head and fiery crystals portruding from its shoulders and back.
Aurelia grit her teeth in frustration, her brows knitting together. They never saw the elemental when they stood outside the gate, neither when they advanced, so their enemy must have used some kind of cloaking spell on it. This would only bring disadvantages.
The front of the vanguard had already advanced upon the elemental, using their spears, swords and axes to hack at the creature’s legs, carefully weaving around its massive arms and legs. One of them was a split second too slow and faced his horrifying fate of being crushed under one of the stone legs with a sickening crunch. He didn’t even have time to scream in agony as the foot came down upon him.
We haven’t even breached the gate and we’re already on the losing side, Aurelia thought grimly as another cluster of soldiers disappeared in the dust of the elemental before being crushed. She sent another burst of raw golden magic flying from her fingertips and struck at the chest of the elemental. Being an energyweaver was a tiring job; because she conjured her spells from her own energy paths running through her body it took a great deal of effort to keep up the pace with the elemental weavers, who could call upon the spirits of the elements and carry out their tasks by harnessing the raw power they provided.
She paused only a small moment to wipe the sweat off her brow with her sleeve before she conjured three sharp spikes of energy and sent them crashing into the elemental’s right arm. Combined with the force of the frontline warriors damaging the creature, it heaved upwards in anger with an earshattering roar before lowering itself with a massive crash, shattering the ground itself upon which the army stood. Upthrusts of rock burst out of the ground at random near the rear guard, quickly scattering spellweaver and healer alike across the battleground.
Aurelia jumped out of the way just before another upthrust shattered the ground, sending dust and grit flying everywhere. She tumbled across the ground twice before picking herself up again and rushed towards a heap of stone for protection of the flying debris. The elemental was now spewing fire out of its burning maw in a steady stream all around itself, catching several unfortunate soldiers by surprise and burning them alive, their sickening screams and the smell of burning flesh filling the clearing. Aurelia knew she’d remember their screams and the smell for a long time; they’d burn in her mind and eat away at her during the night when she tried to sleep. For now she ignored them, there was nothing she could do to help them. Her breathing came ragged and hard, dust and sweat clung to every inch of her body as her muscles strained after being out in the field since the morning. They’d breached the outer borders of the stronghold first and made quick work of the smaller troops patrolling them, then proceeded to take the stronghold itself. She allowed herself to close her eyes for barely a moment before they snapped right open again as someone tumbled next to her against the heap of stone.
“How much longer do you think they’ll hold that thing off?” a voice came from Aurelia’s right, thick with weariness. She peeked over the edge of her stone protection and caught a glimpse of their commander and senior soldiers, weaving in and around the elemental, hacking away at the legs of the creature. Another men fell to the thing’s attack as he was thrown roughly aside, his bones snapping when he collided with a wall surrounding the clearing. Aurelia winced.
“I sure hope they hold it off long enough to prevent a total wipeout of the army. We’ve already lost our formation,” she replied, breathing heavily. She turned to the spellweaver next to her, the same man she had talked to earlier. He clenched his staff so tight his knuckles had turned white. In a way he reminded her of herself when she just got enlisted in the army, fighting all the way in the rear guard for years before being recognised enough with her powers to be moved to the middle of the batallion, always jumping at every sound. “For now we shoul-“
“CANNON!” someone screamed seconds before the ground behind them exploded. Aurelia cursed as debris, sand and dust rained down upon their heads. It seemed the spies had completely missed the ramps above the stronghold’s gate and mistaken them for decoration. Now there were two enormous cannons on either side of the gate on the ramp above, rolled out of cleverly hidden iron doors which had been blended in all the metalwork. The muzzles of the iron-plated constructs were huge in diameter, orange flames churning in the insides of them before the next cannonball screamed through the air and mowed down another pack of soldiers.
“Seems like the Machorians won’t give up their outpost without a fight.”Aurelia said while scanning the field for one of her long-time allies, Liasha Everdawn. The black-haired spellweaver fought tireslessly against the elemental’s arms, firing blast after blast of ice from her fingertips while dodging the incoming cannonballs.
“Liasha!” she roared above the deafening sounds of the fight around them. She sprang to her feet leaving the younger spellweaver behind and weaved her way through the attacks towards the woman. But getting to her wouldn’t be easy. Even though the commander had ordered her to stay near the middle of their formation, she had to get to Liasha.
“Oh come on…” she groaned in frustration as a smaller elemental popped up from behind their current threat, formed from rocks and molten fire, and headed straight for her! She heard her commander shout something but it was too late; conjuring her magic, she raced forwards, engaging in a fast-paced duel. The small thing roared, heaved and then slammed it fists in the ground right before her feet, causing her to lose balance and land hard on her back. She blinked and rolled aside a second later, escaping from being crushed.
She made a quick glance across the battlefield to where another two spellweavers were busy fighting one of the same smaller elementals off a very unfortunate healer. She saw the commander duck away in time for a massive fist being hurled at him, before rolling out of the way for its legs. He shouted again, but the incoming cannonball drowned out most of his words.
“…back to your position!” were the only words she heard, before it rained debris and sand, showering everyone in range in a fine dust. “There is no formation anymore, damn it!” she yelled back in frustration and whirled around to the small elemental, sending magic in short but powerful blasts from her fingers until it shattered apart by one well-placed spell in its maw.
Her lungs burned. Legs felt heavy and her breathing came hard and ragged, heart pounding in her chest. It was not over yet, the greater threat still loomed. “Liasha!” she roared again, her throat burning from the strain. “We’ve got to do something about those cannons.”
“I know! But we don’t have orders to do so.”she replied, nodding over to their commander who busied himself with dodging the attacks of the elemental. Its movements had become sluggish as the fight wore on, but not any less deadlier.
It’s tiring. We need to bring it down while we can…but how?!
“Energyweavers! To the front, I need you to bring down those cannons!”the commander hollered, jumping out of the way for another stream of fire from the elemental’s maw.
Aurelia prepared herself and began channeling as much energy she was able to hold. Golden magic emitted all around her, swirling in thick streams around arms and legs as the power strained terribly against her muscles.
She suppressed the nagging voice in the back of her mind telling her to stop, pushing it away as far she could. This much energy output was dangerous to say the least; more often than not it had driven several energyweavers insane, yet Aurelia had more or less been in control when practising it. So far.
“Please don’t push yourself, Aurelia. Remember what happened last time you did this?” her voice quivered ever so slightly, concentrating on the cannons on the ramps. Several other energyweavers had already rushed towards the iron monstrosities and launched themeselves in the air, landing on the ramps and began destroying the cannons at their base.
“Don’t worry. I’ve trained for this, I’m in control. Care to give me a boost to get up there?” she smiled reassuringly before sprinting to Liasha’s conjured spell on the floor, and leapt forwards. The force of the spell brought her high enough to be above the platform and she used her own magic to proper herself forwards, landing next to the left cannon.
The weavers were already had at work, wrecking the cannon on either side with their bombardement spells and Aurelia soon joined, making quick work of the crude metal device. Down below the remaining forces had began to overpower the elemental, hacking away at its legs and arms.
“Help me with this!” someone shouted from the right cannon. Aurelia leapt over the remains of the left cannon, followed by three other spellweavers.
“If we can find a way to use this cannon to our advantage, we might be able to bring that elemental down.” the spellweaver said as he readied his casting. He paused to mimick to his nose, his eyes on Aurelia. She brought her hand to her own.
“Don’t worry, I can keep going,” she replied, wiping the blood off her face. Even though every single muscle burned and a pounding headache was on the rise she would be damned to let this mission go to waste.
“Just don’t push yourself like last time. You’re more important than you think.”
“Why-“ Aurelia said, starting to channel her own magic, “-Does everyone keep telling me what to do? We’re all here to win this war, not check up on me.”
“Because you’re too reckless when it comes to things like this.” he replied dryly.
By now the channeling of all four weavers had increased greatly, and they released it inside the enormous muzzle as the insides now churned gold. With tremendous effort they positioned it at the rocky back of the elemental and released their spell. It rumbled through the air, exploding in the back of the severely weakened beast which bellowed furiously as it lost its balance. The vanguard did not let a moment go to waste and together with their commander, it crumbled to a lifeless heap in a matter of minutes and well-placed attacks.
As the beast fell, the clearing grew eerily silent for a small moment until it exploded in roars of thriump, the remaining soldiers raising their swords and axes in a powerfull gesture. Their commander strode over to the fallen elemental, kicked it roughly to make sure it was dead, then proceeded to hack away a piece of its glowing crystals with his sword. He held it up to the sun and watched intently, the light reflecting off the strange shape before turning towards the remainder of the army.
“The clearing is ours! Good work, everyone. We will pull back half of our forces to the Varinthian outpost, the rest of you will stay here in case any of the Machorians decide to attack,” he said, eyeing his losses. “And tend to the wounded, as well as burn the remains of our fallen allies. Let them live on warm in the afterlife.”
“Sir!” a spellweaver shouted from near the iron gate. “We have a problem here. This gate is locked behind a set of woven spells. It will take at least a week, if not longer, to unlock it.”
“See to it then. We’ll post the experienced spellweavers here to unlock the gate,” the commander replied as he walked over to the small group at the gate. “We will also keep portals open in case you need any assistance from the outpost, as well as shifts between the task. The rest of us will go back, you all deserved your rest.”
Aurelia herself had jumped down the ledge, now waiting for a portal to open so she could get back to the outpost. Tonight would be one where the outpost forces would celebrate their victory, and despite her tiredness, she looked forward to it and waited for a portal to be opened.
The light-grey stone walls of the Varinthian outpost’s barracks were warmly lit by the torches on the wall and the hearth near the wall. Two long tables with rows of chair took up most space of the wooden floor, seating the remainder of the army who had been lucky enough to take the portal back instead of having camp duty.
The smell of roast meat – chicken, boar, turkey, anything the hunters could get their hands on – filled the barracks. Silverware clattered and wooden mugs filled with mead seemed to overflow, drowned out by the rumbling laughter and chatter of the soldiers. Aurelia took a large bite out of her roast chicken breast, the honeyed meat practically dissolving in her mouth. After a wash, many had opted to wear something more comfortable, but she kept on wearing her under-armor.
Her mind wandered to the events of earlier that day, until someone nudged her in the side with an elbow.
“Don’t be so gloomy, we’re celebrating!” Liasha said before taking another swig of mead, her dark eyes sparkling with joy.
“Sorry. I was just thinking about that spell-locked gate,” she said before taking a swig of mead herself. It went down smoothly and the honey tasted rich and full.
“Don’t worry, the spellweavers they put there are experienced enough to crack that shield in a mere week.”
“But will we be in time to rescue the prisoners?”
“I don’t know”, she sighed, taking another sip. “But we do whatever we can. And up until now it has been enough, every mission we accepted resulted in a victory for Denurir.”
“I doubt how much longer we can keep this up.” Aurelia replied before helping herself with another large bite of her chicken. “It’s true the Denurian army is strong, and while they have significant numbers in other reaches of Varintha, the long-lasting years of war have resulted in a catastrophic plummeting of their ranks.” she said with a mouth full.
“Why are you so gloomy about the whole situation when we should be celebrating our victory?” Liasha replied, a slight edge to her tone. Aurelia looked over and saw her expression harden slightly.
“We’ve been friends long enough for me to know you. You need to learn to relax, you’re way too tense about this situation.”
“Sorry.” Aurelia said.
She was about to become lost in thoughts again when the army’s lieutenant strode in, ignoring all the celebrators and directly went to her.
“Sethoran, the Commander has requested you in his office.” she bluntly stated, her face unreadable of emotion. Aurelia finished her drink, her stomach suddenly no longer interested in the chicken.
“Tell him I will meet him there shortly.” she said, sharing a quick glance with Liasha. The lieutenant gave a curt nod, then left without another word.
“Guess the commander wants to scold me for my actions again.”
“You two really don’t get along well, do you?”
“He and I have different opinions on the methods of fighting this war.”
She stood up, shrugged at Liasha’s worried face, then took the stairs to the second level of the barracks. As usual, two guards stood outside the chamber and gave a quick nod to her before she entered.
Closing the door behind her, Aurelia briefly scanned the room. For a Commander, there were sparsely any personal things in it, more practical interiour pieces. A few tapestries hung from the wall, the golden embroidery of Denurir’s sigil, a phoenix, as stark contrast against the muted green linen.
“You requested my presence, Commander?”
“I did. Please take a seat,” the man said, gesturing to one of the chairs in front of the war planning table. The commander himself sat on the other end, a mug of mead nearby and out of his armor, now only wearing his under-armor. The weariness of battle was written on his face; his brown eyes deep-set and a head of black wavy hair, along with a neatly-kept stubble, this was the man named their commander. Cedric Gale.
“I asked for your presence because I am concerned about your health and actions taken in today’s assault. As you know, a spellweaver’s position, be it energy or elemental, is in the middle of the formation. Yet at times you moved near the front vanguard. What were your reasons for this?”
“Our vanguard is strong indeed, but seeing as they struggled to hold their position near the elemental, I felt it would be necessare to help divert its attention off them.”
“Sethoran, we have the vanguard there for a reason. If one group loses the enemies’ attention, another will pick it up for them. It’s basic knowledge for everyone, yet you fail to keep to your duties as an energyweaver.”
“As you were aware, there were two smaller elementals causing problems. I had to fight through one of them first.”
“Even though I ordered you to stay back and let the vanguard handle this?”
Aurelia opened her mouth, then wisely shut it, swallowing any witty arguments she had to counter with. The commander wasn’t a man to argue with.
He sighed. “The other point is your health and the risks you take on missions. This isn’t the first time you used more energy you could handle. After you all disabled that last cannon you seemed utterly spent, barely able to stand on your feet before the others opened up a portal.”
“Does it matter how much I’m willing to risk for the sake of Denurir’s survival?” she replied bluntly, the familiar rush of anger boiling through her veins again. If anything angered her, it was people who dug through her personal history.
“It does.” he said, taking a sip of his mead before staring directly at her. “I have read your files, Aurelia. I know how dangerous your powers can be if unleashed or used in a wrong way. I know about your history before you came here, and your stubborness. But if you keep this kind of behaviour up, our missions will fail. We can’t afford to lose you.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair.
“I won’t send word to the High Council about what happened today, but you did break the rules of the army. Instead I will have you placed under probation for five days. You are to return home immediately and will be summoned back by one of our messengers after your time is spent there, or in case of an emergency. Is everything clear?”
Aurelia stared straight ahead, accepting her punishment with a steady breath. “I understand, sir.”
“Good. You are dismissed. Enjoy the last few hours of celebrating our victory before you take your leave.” he said while standing up and began walking towards his private chambers. Aurelia left without another word, closing the war room’s door behind her and quietly went to her private quarters. There she packed her belongings, called upon her magic, and summoned a portal home.