• Matt Brown

Invasion Part 3

Morning everyone! The last part of the invasion story is here. I hope you enjoy it. If you like what you're reading fee free to #subscribe . I plan on doing more stories like this in the future.



The humidity was unbearable, the air stifling. Even with gloom cast by The Wood’s thick canopy, it felt as if the sun were overhead. Landros could feel the sweat seeping through the padding of his plate armor. He wanted to strip, to feel the cool rush of air against his skin as he peeled away the layers.


Landros looked behind him, first at the ground level, and then to the canopy above. Three thousand soldiers were with him, the great redwoods around them providing them with cover. Among them were four hundred archers, all positioned to maximize the natural kill zone the great redwoods presented them.


At last report, the Dak’ren were on the march and heading directly for their position. Their War Trolls were taking point ahead of them. This time they were fewer in number, after the tribe’s defeat at Bae’ash, dozens of trolls were slaughtered to set an example. ‘I hope this works,’ Landros whispered. He peered further behind him, trying to catch a glimpse of the High Magus’ who were stationed further in. Truthfully, he knew he wouldn’t. The camp was too far away.


For days they had been preparing. Queen Anishar’s plan was ambitious and untested. So much had been sacrificed for this moment. If her plan failed it would mean the end of them all.


A horn sounded ahead of them, followed by the war cries of the troll vanguard. “Archers at the ready!” he shouted. “Aim for the eyes! Siege bowmen, take aim!” He glanced at the great Siege bows, there were thirty in all. Each was rigged to fire five large bolts in rapid succession. Each bolt carried a vial of Dragon’s Fire, a volatile liquid crafted by alchemists.


“Fire teams A, C, and E fire the first volley. Teams B,D, and F fire after and then rotate,” he commanded. “I want to shove as many bolts down those brute’s throats as we can fit!”


The siege crews pointed the great weapons down each kill lane. Great Lady, grant us the time we need. The shield guard for each siege crew stepped up next, their great tower shields to granting cover.


Over the last few months the shadow orcs had begun resorting to crossbows. While they had shorter range, they could puncture armor more easily. They were more accurate and posed less risk than the time it took for the bowman to find their targets.


It had made close engagements more difficult, the orcs didn’t care if they hit the trolls in close combat. The trolls could heal and recover. Landros took a second glance at the archers. At their vantage they should easily be able to pick off their enemies without being in crossbow range.


Another horn sounded, closer than before. There was a series of dull thuds that followed, the sound of war drums. They grew more rhythmic, steadily becoming a continuous beat. Landros thought of Akallis, some of the soldiers here were alive because of him.


“What would you do, my friend?” He looked at the kill lanes, smiled, then laughed. “You would do that.”


“El’ann Srentith!” he said, turning to the soldier next to him.


The young soldier looked up and saluted. “Yes, Qen’ter’inth?”


“Run to the camp, find a Shaper among the druids and bring them here,” he commanded. “I do not care if they protest or claim the are taking part in the ritual,” Landros added. “Drag them here if you must!”

“As you command, Qen’ter’inth,” Srentith replied and ran off.


“Shaper, I hope you have talent,” he said.


***************************************************


Everything was nearly ready, Lyissara had finished grinding the herbs along with her fellow druids. She frowned as how nasty she felt, sweat drenching her robes. Her hair long brown hair was a mess. She sighed as he pulled it back for the seventh time retying the leather cord she used to hold it in place.


“Are the High Magus’ ready Elder Erenla?” she asked, turning calling out to her teacher.

Her teacher looked exahusted truth be told. Her long silver hair was just as matted with sweat, the lines of her age showing across her face. “Almost, child,” she replied, carefully stepping over the exposed roots of the forest floor. “This is a difficult process,” she added. “We have never tried combining our magiks before.”


“If things were not so dire, I might find this exciting,” Lyrissara commented. The warm smile on her teacher’s aged face comforting.


“It would be indeed, child,” she said. “If I were not in my Twilight, I could be of more use.”


Lyrisarra smiled. Her heart ached so see her teacher in such a state. “You are of more use than you know, Elder.”


Erenla laughed. “Oh, Lyrissara, you never were a good liar, even when you put on such a brave face.”


She started coughing and then wheezing. Lyrissara jumped to her aid helping her seat herself on an exposed root. “You should not push yourself.”


“Oh hush!” her teacher replied waving her off. “My magic may not be as strong, but after eleven hundred years, I still have fight in these old bones.”


“Are you going to gum the Dak’ren to death, Teacher?” Lyrissara scowled, small pinpricks on her heart. She hadn’t intended to sound so harsh.


The Elder druid’s eyes flashed at her angrily, becoming more like a snake than their normal brown hue. “I still have my fangs,” she warned.


“Forgive me, Teacher, I never meant it that way.”


The hard expression on the Elder’s face quickly melted. “Oh, child, why is it I could never stay angry with you,” she said, gently embracing her.


“Perhaps it is because I am the only one of your students who listened?” Lyrissara smiled. Her teacher laughed and was immediately overtaken by another coughing fit. “Elder, please.”


“I am fine,” she frowned. “It is this air.”


Lyrissara sighed, turning her attention toward the gloom. Somewhere ahead of them a battle was about to take place. Soldiers would be fighting and dying to keep them safe. She paused, the hair standing on the back of her neck as she glimpsed something moving in the gloom.

She leaned forward, eyes widening as she saw a lone El’ann running toward the camp. “I need a Shaper, is anyone here a Shaper!” he shouted. The other druids, along with the High Magus’ all turned their eyes to him.


“What has happened, El’ann!” High Magus Diesar asked, running up to him. “Have out forces been overrun?”


“No,” he panted, trying to catch his breath. “But the Qen’ter’inth has a plan.”


“Even if there were a Shaper,” Diesar replied. “We need everyone present for the ritual.”


“Forgive me, High Magus,” the El’ann replied, “but my orders were clear.”


“El’ann.”


Lyrissara turned to her teacher as the elder druid stood. “Elder, no,” she said.


“Lyrissara, know your place,” the Elder replied. “El’ann, did our Qen’ter’inth, explain this plan?”


“No Elder, he did not,” the El’ann replied. “But if there is a Shaper among you, I am to drag them kicking and screaming if I must.”


“Then, El’ann, my student Lyrissara is at your disposal,” she replied.


“Elder, what about the ritual?” Lyrissara asked.


The old druid smiled. “I will take your place,” she said.


“No, Teacher, you must not!”


“Lyrissara! I am not so old I do not need to be coddled by a child!” her teacher replied. “I have a duty, just as all of you have a duty, and I will see it fulfilled.”


“Of course, Elder,” she said, bowing her head. Her eyes stung, the pain in her heart deepening.


“You die will though.”


“Oh, my dear,” Erenla, cupping Lyrissara’s face in her hands. “Death is part of The Cycle. Without it, life cannot begin anew.”


Her mind was made up, Lyrissara could see it in her eyes. Tears rolled down her cheeks and she embraced the elder druid. “You were always like a mother to me.”


“And you a daughter to me.”


It didn’t seem fair, even if her teacher was in her Twilight. She wouldn’t be strong enough to survive the strain the ritual would place on her body. Lyrissara pulled away, turning to the El’ann. “Take me to our Qen’ter’inth.”


********************************************************8


Srentith felt his blood run cold as he heard the loud blare of a Dak’ren war horn. He was already winded, his heart pounding from the pace were forced to keep. He glanced back and Lyrissara, she looked no better.


“Why are we stopping?” she asked, panting heavily.


“You need you catch your breath,” Srentith replied, barely hearing the din of the battle ahead over his own heartbeat. “And so do I. We need not be running headlong into a battle exhausted.”


“I can rest when I am dead,” she replied. “You expressed an urgency and Elder Erlena is giving up her life for this errand. So I expect you to suffer just a bit longer with me!”


Her cold icy stare said enough. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t relate, all of them had felt the pain of loss of the war just as deeply. “Then try to keep up. Watch for stray crossbow bolts.”


************************************************


“Hold that flank!” Landros shouted. “They will step no further!” He swung his longsword, parrying his opponent’s blade pushing it out wide, leaving him open. Taking the dagger in his other hand Landros quickly followed up with a quick slash across the Dak’ren soldier’s throat. Surprise shown in the soldiers eyes as he fell to the ground holding his throat.


Landros looked around heart was pounding. There were times throughout the battle it had almost matched the rhythm of the shadow orc’s war drums. The bodies were piling up, both along the kill lanes and on their flanks. The archers were working overtime, picking off anyone who slipped through.


War Troll corpses lay everywhere along the paths, burnt, charred and still burning thanks to the Dragon’s Breath. The siege bows taken down wave after wave. The crews completely in sync and thier rotations flawless. The shadows orcs were slowly moving in, each troupe containing a handful of crossbowmen for cover fire.


The archers had a good eye however, picking off the advancing orcs whenever there was a shot to be made. Still, it was struggle and the flanks were the hardest to defend. There had already been several skirmishes, thank the Lady the Trolls had been part of them.


This time the Dak’ren had taken to the field, apparently their cousins had grown tired of waiting behind their slaves. They were losing ground though. His arms felt heavy, how long had Srentith been gone?


A horn sounded, cheers rang out around him. The Dak’ren were pulling back. “Resupply!” he shouted. “Reform ranks, and find cover. Do not get picked off by a stray bolt!” He took cover behind a large exposed root, leaning on it for support.


“Qen’ter’inth.”


Landros looked up as one of his soldiers was holding a waterskin out to him. “Thank you,” he said, taking it and drinking from it. “Any word from, Srentith?


“None,” the Than’lo replied. “We will need to send runners soon. The siege bows are running low on ammo and Dragon’s Breath.”


“I know,” Landros replied. “How many have we lost so far?”


“Maybe two hundred dead, many more wounded,” the soldier replied.


“Kelten, we just need to hold until sundown,” Landros said. “I bet our enemies are fuming though.”


Kelten smiled. “I bet they are,” he said. “But why no shadow mages. Surely they have them in reserve.”


“Perhaps they are waiting,” Landros replied. “I think our enemies know we are up to something and waiting to see what it is.”


“Perhaps they are growing overconfident,” Kelten said. “I heard a report from the Ashtounge Mountains. It seems a large force has begun razing many of the dwarven settlements.”


“If they are dividing their efforts, then there is hope,” Landros replied. “I think are cousins are growing too ambitious. They rely on the War Troll’s strength too much. We saw it firsthand in Bae’ash.”


“How many do you think they have lost?” Kelten asked.


“Of their own, very little,” Landros replied. “Of their slaves, I don’t want to imagine. It would not surprise me if before long we start be seeing humans from the south and frost giants from the north conscripted to their armies.”


“You forgot goblins,” Kelton laughed.


“Do not overlook a group of angry goblins,” Landros warned. “They are like a pack of frenzied rats.” A war horn sounded and he sighed. “Prepare runners, we will need those supplies.” Kelton saluted and then retreated deeper into the wood to rejoin his own soldiers. “Srentith, you had better hurry.”


*********************************************************


The blare of the horn was much closer, though his lungs burned, feeling as if they might explode. Hope stirred as he looked up catching sight of a troupe of archers high above him. After another minute, he saw more soldiers taking position guarding the rear.


“The Qen’ter’inth!” he shouted, to them. “Where is he?”


“He is with Than’lo Renthas, fighting on the northern part of our right flank,” their El’ann called out.


Srentith glanced back at Lyrissara. She had transformed herself into a panther to keep pace, though she was still just as winded. “We don’t have much further,” he said. She narrowed her yellow eyes, groaning softly. Another horn blared, followed by the sound of drums. The rhythm started slow and steady, eventually picking up in tempo. It was almost ritualistic.


After a few minutes, Srentith finally caught sight of Landros. Several other soldiers were gathered around him. Landros looked up, relief showing on his face. “Did you find a Shaper?”


Srentith knelt, his legs feeling like jelly. “I…” he panted and simply nodded. He glanced over his shoulder. Lyrissara had transformed back, it was almost comical. For druid, you would think she was used to running. She was on all fours, panting heavily.


“This errand, had better be for a good reason,” she said, looking up at Landros, sweat dripping from her face.


“It is, Lady Druid,” Landros replied. “It may very well buy us the time we need.” Srentith caught a hint of curiosity from her as she slowly stood using a tree for support.


“Then tell me, Qen’ter’inth, before we are too busy fighting to talk.” The war drums tempo was steadily increasing.


“I want you to break one of the larger Great Redwoods,” he replied.


She stared at him, eyes wide in shock. “You want me to do what?” she asked. “Do you even understand what you are asking?”


“I understand the ramifications of something so massive falling,” he replied. “And how much it will impede and kill our enemies.”


“Any of these trees are easily three hundred feet, some more so and have stood for several hundred years,” she said. “The root systems are intertwined as if they were a single tree.”


“They are,” he replied. “But their great size and girth, also make them a great weapon.”


She was angry, for more reasons that Srentith wanted to consider. The tempo of the drums began reaching its crescendo, they were almost out of time. “I will,” Lyrisarra replied. “What you ask however, is beyond anything I have ever done,’ she added. “You are telling me to ask the tree to kill itself.”


****************************************


Lyrissara closed her eyes and touched the great redwood beside her. She could feel it drawing strength from the earth, the nourishment flowing from it and into the great tree’s roots. She could feel its very life.


She took a breath, pressing against its trunk. The bark softened and she pushed forward. It was like passing through water, the way it felt as it crept across your skin while sinking beneath the surface.

When she felt it completely overtake her Lyrissara opened her eyes. She was inside the great redwood, a hollow space molded to give her room to work. It was the safest choice with the battle soon to be raging outside.


“I’m sorry,” she said. Lyrissara sat and placed her hands on the floor of the hollow. She called upon her abilities as a Shaper, attuning herself to the tree, becoming part of it. The steady thrum of tree’s lifeforce filled her. There was a warmth to it, a rhythm not unlike a heartbeat. She stretched out her senses, allowing them to extend into the roots, following them to the other redwoods they were intertwined with.


So many bound together…Her eyes stung, tears falling down her cheeks. Lyrissara opened herself further, she could see everything now, or rather she could feel it. She could even make out the Dak’ren encampment from the vibrations in the ground, from the steady beat of the orc war drums.


The encampment was spread out, much of the vegetation had been cleared. The clearing was like a void, unnatural and forced in shape. Her senses couldn’t reach past it. It was as if the land itself were dead. If not for the war drums, she wouldn’t have been able to make out much of anything.


It was then Lyrissara felt another presence, it was old, very old. It seemed amused. “I wonder,” it said. It was a female’s voice, there was an heir of authority about it. Lyrissara ignored her and began searching for which tree she could safely use against the Dak’ren.


“I could help,” the voice said. “It would be easy, you just have to say yes.” Lyrissara continued to ignore her. “Do you really believe you can do it alone?”


Lyrissara kept searching, but the roots of the great redwoods were too intertwined. The long centuries had melded them together. They were separate but one, harming one could harm them all.


“Say yes, Lyrissara,” the voice said. Again Lyrissara ignored the her, there must be a way. She reached out, feeling out the lifeforce of the trees, traveling through the root system around her. She clung to the lifeforce of a redwood closest to the camp, holding it firmly.


She tugged at it, attempting to cut the flow of energy from its base. She heard its cries and it fought back, soon after the others joined in and she found herself shoved aside, eyes open as her concentration was broken.


“Lyrissara,” the voice said. “Say, yes. Your queen refuses my aid, even in this dark hour. The answer is simple, yet you do not see it,” she laughed.


“Who are you?” Lyrissara demanded. “Why do you taunt me?”


“Taunt you?” she replied. “Child, I mean to help you. A plague has entered My Wood and I mean to see it expunged.”


The tone she used, sent chills down Lyrissara’s spine. She spoke their tongue, but the way she spoke, the inflections she used, made it clear she was not one to be trifled with. “What is your price?” Lyrissara asked.

An ant does not ask a price, rather such things are handled by the colony’s queen,” she replied. “Your queen will pay, for the aid I give. So, Lyrissara, say yes.”


The hollow was suddenly filled with light along with a silvery mist. The mist gathered itself, becoming a small sphere and inside it she saw her kinsman. The battle was not going well, they were being forced back. The tree in which she had taken refuge was surrounded by Dak’ren as they advanced.


“Time is short, Shay’lin,” she said. “What is your answer?”


“Who are you to do this?” Lyrissara asked.

Laugher sounded all around her. “I am the rightful owner if these woods and your people are those whom I have deemed fit to thrive within its borders,” she replied.


Lyrissara watched helplessly as more of her kinsmen died, the sadistic glee written on the Dak’ren’s faces was chilling and tore at her heart. The ritual wouldn’t be complete in time if they weren’t stopped. What could she possibly do against so many? How powerful was this person making such an offer?


She sat there in silence, tears falling down her cheeks. “Yes,” she said, her heart no longer able to bear it. “Now, help us.”


“Gladly.”


She could feel everything, the trees, the ground, even the lives being snuffed out as the two armies cut each other down. There were no words, everything simply was. Her connection to nature had strengthened, she could feel it flowing through her body, piercing her soul and anchoring itself to her spirit.


It was overwhelming by it. It was so much more than she had ever been taught, so much more than she imagined. Lyrissara sensed something else, it was neither plant nor animal, Shay’lin or Dak’ren. It was something more and yet alien to her. It was angry at the Dak’ren for something they had done.


What is this presence?” she asked.

Ask it for help and find out,” the voice replied. “Better yet, ask them.


She closed hers eyes and reached out. It was then that the presence seemed to shift, like a pair of eyes staring right at her. She felt more of them, each appearing keenly aware of her. It was then she realized that they were elementals.


They were different though, primordial and without form. Their essence was tied to everything around them, even their natures could not be defined. The only thing Lyrissara knew for certain is that they were old.


She felt a mental nudge, one of them seemed to want something. She pushed back only to nearly be knocked senseless, as if someone were trying to club her to death, when it responded.


Lyrissara suddenly understood, it wanted to know her intent. She opened herself up, allowing it to freely examine her thoughts and feelings. There was sense of ‘agreement’ that followed, as if she had spoken to it.


Their attention shifted and the ground began to shake. Their anger grew, but there was a violence to it that made her blood run cold. There was no right and wrong, only the desire to preserve what should be. It cared not for sides, only The Cycle.


The shaking grew more violent. Lyrissara braced herself against the wall of the hollow. She closed her eyes, extending her awareness out through the Great Redwood itself and screamed. Her temples throbbed and something wet ran from her nose.


“What have I done?” she whispered.


***************************************************


The flank was collapsing and the Dak’ren were pressing their advantage. Landros leaned on his sword, his breathing labored. He glanced at it and his armor, both were soaked in blood.


The War Trolls had been driven back, the bodies of their fallen lay scattered everywhere. shadow orcs were numbered among them; Landros couldn’t help but feel like he was standing in one mass grave. He also saw his own troops laying among them.


The archers were forced to fall back, with so many volleys loosed, they were short on arrows. Still, they had performed admirably buying so much preciously needed time. The siege bow crews had fallen back as well and rejoined the ranks. It was pointless to man them without a resupply.


With their slaves pushed back, more Dak’ren had taken to the field. Landros had lost count of how many of he had already killed. They fought as if possessed. He was worried though, not a single shadow mage had shown themselves. There should have been at least five. The fact they were keeping silent was unsettling. What could they be waiting for?


There was a shout to his left and he looked up. Two Dak’ren came at him, a wicked smile adorning their faces. Landros glided between them, stabbing one of them just underneath the arm. The other spun around, anger written on his face. He came in with a thrust, but Landros parried and kicked him away.


The Dak’ren soldier stumbled back and Landros quickly moved in. The Dak’ren swung wildly, trying to keep him at bay, but Landros parried, forcing the blade to the ground. His enemy struggled against him, but Landros was stronger.


He rammed his helmet into the Dak’ren’s exposed jaw, forcing him to lose his grip on his sword. He then lunged, angling his blade at the dark elf’s throat cutting through it. Landros heard a cry behind him and whirled around in time to parry a slash aimed for the back of neck.


The dead dark elf’s companion stood there, blood flowing freely from the wound underneath his arm. It was amazing the Dak’ren soldier was still standing. The artery under his arm had clearly been cut.


He held his blade high and rushed in, Landros stepped up, coming in close and slashing upward. The Dak’ren soldier screamed, grabbing his wrist. He stared at his hand laying on the ground still gripping his sword. Landros spun around severing the soldier’s head from his shoulders.


“When will this end?” he panted, staring at the Dak’ren’s corpse. The ground suddenly shook, forcing the war drums to lose rhythm. He looked around the battlefield, both his own men and


Dak’ren had stopped, each eyeing the other. The Dak’ren seemed almost confused.

Taking the advantage, his own troops sprang into action, putting the Dak’ren on the defensive. Dozens of them fell, the glee he had seen on their faces replaced with panic as they were pushed back. The drums began again and their expressions suddenly changed.


Their eyes took on a feral light, the panic he had seen vanished, replaced with the sadistic glee had had seen a moment ago. It was then he understood. The shadow mages have not been idle. They had simply been focusing their magic somewhere else.


There was another quake, this one more violent. Landros nearly lost his footing and again the drums stopped. Both his own troops and the Dak’ren were forced to the ground as the quakes grew in intensity. He fell to one knee, bracing himself with his sword.


“Qen’ter’inth!” Landros looked up. He saw the Shaper was several yards ahead of him. “We need to run!” she shouted. “Call a retreat if you the value our lives!”


“Why?” he asked.


“I fear I have done something terrible!” she shouted. A moment later he saw the ground behind her begin shaping itself into a massive earthen fist.


“Fall back!” he shouted, the fist becoming attached to an even larger earthen arm. Landros stood, rushing toward her, struggling to keep his footing.


She stumbled forward, crashing into an exposed root. He watched as one of the Dak’ren crawled toward her, a large dagger in his hand. “Shaper!” he shouted over the roar of the quake.


She looked to her left, eyes wide and thrust her hand toward him. The ground suddenly exploded in vines, entangling themselves around him. He cried out as they began to constrict, squeezing tightly around him until he could no longer move.


Landros stumbled toward him, setting his footing and thrust his sword into the Dak’ren’s back. “What is happening.”


“The Wood is angry,” she replied as he helped her to her feet. “It understands what it means to be angry, I understands rage.”


She was trembling and he looked past her, toward the elemental as it took shape. Landros couldn’t understand why, but something about it stirred a deep up seeded fear from within him. the elemental turned, looking toward the direction of the Dak’ren encampment and roared. More elementals began forming from the earth and when he looked into the Shaper’s eyes, he only found fear.


*************************************************************


“Are we ready?” Erlena asked.


“I believe we are,” High Magus Kisrin replied.


She glanced around the circle, there were forty in all gathered here. Half of them were her peers and Elders. The others, some of the most prominent practitioners of High Magic. Each of them stood atop a glyph, one that represented who they were and their specialty in magic.


The glyphs were made of obsidian and encased in amber. With their magic, the elders solidified the amber into the stone and the High Magus had carved the arcane symbols necessary to link each glyph together. From the glyphs a small channel had been carved into the large slab, each converging at its center where the largest firestone gem she had ever seen sat in a cradle.


Her glyph was of a serpent, coiled around a tree. The snake was her totem, for her it always symbolized craftiness and cunning. She had used those qualities often in this long war. Even if Shaen’rel Grove had fallen, the Dak’ren paid dearly for burning it to the ground.


The hours spent preparing the ritual, were finally complete. Each the totems were now linked, as were the High Magus’. It was an ambitious plan and some argued it impossible. Who would have believed they could combine their crafts so easily? It was High Magus Ahrin who had found the link, ‘Only a necromancer would find a loophole,’ she thought wryly.


“Before we begin, do not mourn me,” she said. “I do this for our people, so that we might survive.”

“We understand,” High Magus Ahrin replied. “Some of us here have also chosen the same path. The sacrifice we make will strengthen the magic.”


While she understood his meaning, Erlena felt uncomfortable about it. In some way it felt like a violation of The Cycle. This was no time to be squeamish or to argue ethics, however. “Let us begin,” High Magus Kisrin said.


He began chanting, then one by one each High Magus followed suit. She closed her eyes, and began calling on her own magic, drawing upon her connection to the land and everything within it. One of the greatest differences between a druid and a Magus was that there were no words or incants. A druid simply channeled the power through themselves, their connection to life and nature being the conduit.


It was a matter of will, focus, and stamina. Through the glyphs she felt her connection to the others strengthen, she even felt the power in the words of the Magus’ themselves. It was like an ominous dirge as they droned on, each of them alternating in rhythm, picking up where another had left off.

The firestone gem at the center of the circle flared to life, taking on an angry red glow that seemed to completely banish the gloom created by The Wood. The heart of the gem seemed to swirl in time if the Magus’ chanting. It reminded her of magma, the way it churned about inside it.


Erlena closed her eyes, letting herself drift in the power of nature as she drew it into herself and then into her glyph itself. She felt hot, it wasn’t like the warmth she was used to, like when her mother had held her close as a child.


She could feel the power of the arcane, mingling with her own. At first their was resistance, like two opposing forces repelling each other. As time went on and more power was poured into the circle, the conflict between the two somehow lessened, as if the two opposing forces had reached some kind of balance.


Erlena suddenly felt her connection to the land grow, she could ‘see’ everything for miles. She could see the intricate web connecting the plans and trees, the life flowing into their roots. She felt like they were an extension of herself and as she drew more power in, she could even began to hear the screams of the battle.


She could heart the hearts of the soldiers racing, beating like thunderous drums, she could feel the life draining from them as they died, and sense the terror overtaking them. She could feel the greed and malice of the Dak’ren, but for some reason, they too were terrified.


It was then she sensed the rage, the anger and hatred of something else, some far older. She focused her awareness on it, feeling it out. It was then she ‘saw’ the elementals, they were like giants thundering through The Wood slaughtering everything in their path. Shay’lin or Dak’ren, it mattered very little.


She felt a sudden pain in her chest, turning her attention back to herself. It was hard to breathe, her chest tightening. She suddenly felt the strain of drawing so much natural power into herself, her joints feeling like molten fire.


Erlena poured more of the power into her glyph, lessening the strain, but when she opened her eyes, she saw the toll it was taking on the others. Like her, they wouldn’t last much longer. She heard a loud snap, like a tree breaking.


She glanced at the firestone gem, cracks had begun forming across its surface! The Magus’ were too lost in the rhythm to notice. Their eyes rolling to the back of their heads. She closed her eyes again, focusing on it, its latent power nearly rending her senses apart.


The pain in her chest returned, her heart feeling as if someone were cutting into it. She fell to one knee gasping for breath, but never wavering as she continued pouring power into the glyph. The amber was warm to the touch, a dark red glow emanating from it. Cracks were forming across it from the strain.


The Magus chant grew louder, the air felt electrified, like a during a lightning storm. Erlena could feel it moving through her hair. She looked toward the other druids, each elder was one their knees as well, some looking as if they were in agony.


When she looked at the firestone gem, it had begun shake from the strain, cracks winding around it like an intricate web. She then felt something else, part of her seemed to be drawn to it, as if her spirit were become part of it.


Her chest grew even tighter, every breath a struggle, her bones burning as if on fire. The gem shook more violently, until the strain became too much and it shattered. The world suddenly seemed to stop and Erlena gasped, her body felt heavy and as her life drained from it, only then did she realize the truth. High Magus Ahrin had lied to them, none of them would survive the ritual. That was the loophole, the price had been not just the lives of a few, but rather every participant in the circle.


***************************************************


Lyrissara stumbled, a sharp pain piercing her chest. ‘Elder,’ she whispered.


“Lady Druid,” Landros said, pulling her to her feet. “We must hurry while their attention is focused on the enemy.


“It is done,” she said, tears in her eyes. The joy in the soldier’s eyes was like a knife to her heart. ‘If he only knew,’ she thought.


“Regardless, we must hurry,” he said.


It was then she felt it, a power nearly at immense as when she first reached out to the elementals. It was both arcane and natural in nature. The forest suddenly lit up and she saw a wall of white light rushing toward them.


Both she and Landros could only stand and watched as it washed over them and then continue on. “There will be no more running,” she said. “We are safe now.”


“But what of the Elementals?” he asked.


“No being, with ill intent toward us may pass through the barrier,” she replied. “That was the full intent of the ritual.”


He nodded. “I was never informed, only told it would save us.”


“It was meant to buy us time to recover,” she said, trying to hold back the tears. “Now come, we have dead to bury, I am the only druid left from the camp.”


****************************************************


The atmosphere was somber, yet hopeful. It was the first time in months they had any sort of respite. So much had and so many lives taken. Anishar looked out beyond the dais on which she sat, there were so few noble houses remaining.


Banners hung over sections of The Court, now empty, and even of the fifteen remaining noble houses, their numbers were few. Anishar could see the discouragement on their faces, but she could also read the cry for blood in their eyes.


“My Queen, it is time,” her Steward said.


She turned to him and nodded. “Thank you, Selnar,” she replied. Her stomach was in knots, it was the first time since the war began she had been able to address them properly. Anishar stood, all eyes on her as she strode down the steps of the dais and toward the center of the chamber.


“My Lords and Ladies,” she began. “After so much sacrifice, we have been given respite. We have suffered much, but as I gaze upon you now, I see hope.” There were tears in their eyes, the discouragement written on their faces changing. Anishar felt her chest tighten, they were looking to for her to be that hope.


The atmosphere suddenly grew expectant, though her could feel her hands shaking, Anishar clasped them tightly together, resting them against her abdomen. “Our enemies stand severely weakened,” she said. “In their zeal to wipe us out they have overreached.”


The great doors of the chamber suddenly shuddered as if something had hit them. Anishar paused, staring at the massive doors along with the rest of the nobility. The doors were struck again, but held, the bolts of the hinges keeping them in place groaning under the strain.


Guards rushed past her, halberds ready as they lowered them toward the door. Something struck the great doors a third time, the hinges giving way as they flew open and were tossed aside. Several nobles fled, diving to avoid getting caught in their path.


Anishar stood her ground, a mix of anger and fear as she stared at the Shay’lin female stepping into the chamber. Both emotions melted away when she saw two beastmen following in tow, one a wolf the other a cat. “Overreached?” she said, disdain in her voice. “Surely you jest?”


“Guards!” Anishar shouted. Her soldiers quickly sprang into action, rushing to surround the female and her companions.


“Enough!” she shouted. The soldiers stood frozen midstride. “Now, I have been patient, I have offered you salvation and yet, you still resist me,” she said. “Your stubborn pride will lead to your extinction!”


“You claim you can end this, that you have the power,” Anishar replied. “Then why not do so?” The chamber suddenly shook, the female’s eyes changing, becoming more reptilian. Anishar felt something grab her, forcing her onto her knees.


“I do not answer to vermin!” she growled.


Anishar finally understood, she had heard the legends, of an ancient and powerful dragon that claimed The Shadow Wood as its home. “Em’vorel,” she whispered. She felt the dragon suddenly release its hold.


“So you understand,” Em’vorel replied. “Now choose.”


“Why go through all of this?” Anishar asked as she stood.


“Yours is not to understand, only to choose the fate of your people,” Em’vorel replied.


Anishar turned to the other nobles, they simply sat in silence, all eyes on her. When she looked to them individually, each nodded in agreement. “We agree,” she replied, praying she hadn’t doomed them all.


A wicked smile crossed Em’vorel’s face. “Excellent,” she said and then turning to the two beastmen, she added, “You know what to do.” Both of them bowed and left the chamber in response. “Now, we will discuss payment.”


“What can I give?” Anishar asked. “We have nothing left to offer.”


Em’vorel smiled even wider. “Oh but you do,” she replied. “You have something of immeasurable value; your word.”


“My word?” Anishar asked.


Em’vorel laughed. “Oh, the things you people take for granted,” she said, looking around the room. “Your word is power, your words moves this entire kingdom,” she explained. “I want your word at a time of my choosing. Should you die then this shall extend to your descendants.”


“So you want a favor in exchange for our salvation,” Anishar replied.


Em’vorel’s eyes lit up, Anishar suddenly felt as if she were I the coils of a redwood python. “Exchange? The exchange is done, you simply have to fulfill not one, but two requests,” she said.

“We only agreed to one,” Anishar said.


You, agreed to one, your people already bargained for the other,” she replied. “Where do you think the elementals came from?” She drew closer until they were both directly face to face. “Where do you think your precious necromancer acquired the firestone gem required to fuel your ritual?” she asked. “I took it from my own horde.”


“Then name your request?” Anishar replied.


“Oh no, Shay’lin Queen that is not how this game is played,” Em’vorel answered. “As you are, your word had little to offer, but as you will be, when the time is right; only then will I collect.”


“How will we know you have kept your end of the agreement?” Anishar asked.


Emvorel smirked, turning her back to Anishar and began walking away. “In six months’ time you will see, the fruits of your bargain with me,” she replied, stepping through the doorway leaving the chamber.

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