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Chapter Forty-Four: Reinforcements

Ryan had pictured it differently. In his head, scenes from movies like Gladiator or Lord of the Rings took place. Glorious battle scenes rendered with computer generated animation. Swords flying, hearts pumping and blood flowing.

What Ryan was now faced with was something else altogether. But it wasn’t until he witnessed a man he’d known almost his entire life take a battleaxe to the shoulder that he realized that these Vectorans hadn’t seen those movies. They only had one thing in mind.

Slaughter.

They’d heard the battle cries well before they’d seen the Vectorans. The rapid gunfire, the occasional arrow that ventured above the tree line was all they’d really seen, and under Liass’ orders, the Halish men were to be kept quiet. They would surprise them at the corner, which was fast approaching.

The first thing he saw was Al Hubert get sliced down the middle by a Vectoran soldier. A moment later, the soldier was ripped to shreds by gunfire.

“Get out!” Cale screamed at the Dunsmith soldiers. “Go back to town! We’ve got this!”

If they heard him, they made no effort to leave. But it hardly mattered anyway. As the Vectorans finally rounded the corner and got a good look at the Halish army train behind them, the tide of the battle started to turn. Their attention now focused on the Halish men, the Dunsmith men were almost useless.

As the two armies began to meet under the clash of swords, Ryan looked back to Corpus.

“We need to get Terra and the others to safety,” he said. “Will those trucks carry them?”

Ryan looked back. Terra had insisted at staying at the forefront of the battle, but by the look on her face, she was beginning to reconsider. She probably hadn’t expected so much blood.

Maryn and Arynn were much further back, choosing to remain with the camp followers. They’d be miles away, and as far as Ryan knew, perfectly safe.

But Terra… Ryan whipped his head over to Nalya. She stood not far from Terra, well away from the brunt of the battle, but close enough to get hit by a stray arrow, or worse. There was suddenly a huge cracking noise, and Ryan whipped his head over to the side of the road, where a Halish man was kneeling, holding a stone to the ground.

Several trees began to shudder and creak as the very soil they sprouted from began to solidify, form legs and arms, and begin to crawl about on all fours.

“Holy shit,” Ryan said. He hadn’t expected that.

It hadn’t taken long for the Vectorans to counter with their own Elemental.

“Nalya!” Ryan screamed. He ran over to her.

“What?” she asked.

“You need to get Terra and bring her into town,” he said. “She’s not safe here.”

“But,” Nalya began. “But, the battle!”

“The battle’s fine without you. Terra needs you!” he exclaimed. “You’ve got to get her to safety.”

Nalya looked back and forth from the battle to Ryan, when finally she clenched her jaw shut and nodded. In a flash, she was off to grab Terra.

“That was a clever one, Lad,” Bayne commented.

“What was a clever one?” Ryan asked.

“You could have asked anyone to bring Terra in to safety,” he said. “But you asked Nalya.”

Ryan just shrugged it off.

“Are you two going to sit around jabbering all day?” Corpus called. “Or are you going to join in the battle?”

Bayne smiled, then pulled out his sword. “Ready when you are, Indetae.”

 

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Nalya zig-zagged through the rushing soldiers towards a pale-faced Terra who wore a look of shock and awe upon her face. The battle had started in seconds, and after a full minute, already the ground was beginning to turn red with the blood of men, Halish, Canadian and Vectoran alike.

Nalya rushed under the hot afternoon sun until she reached Terra. “Come,” she said. “We have to get into the town.”

Terra snapped out of it for barely a moment. “Fuck,” she said. “I shouldn’t have smoked that last joint.” She looked as though she was going to be ill.

“Come on,” Nalya said, tugging her by the hand. She began to run, Terra in tow towards a truck nearby, then ran up to the driver, who was every bit as pale-faced as Terra.

“Can you take us into the town?” she asked.

The driver snapped his attention to Nalya, then furrowed his brow. “Who the hell are–” he began, then saw Terra. “Shit,” he said. “You’re that girl that went up north.”

Terra nodded.

The driver looked behind him. The battle was beginning to move now, pushing the Vectorans back and deeper into the woods.

Suddenly, he nodded. “Right,” he said. “Hop in.”

 

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“Silvereye, are you there?” Cale called into the radio.

A moment later, the scratchy, yet bird-like voice of Silvereye came back. “Yes,” he replied. “Yes, this Silvereye.”

“Silvereye, it’s…” Damn. What did they call him again? “Sharpsight. It’s Sharpsight.”

“Yes! Yes!” Silvereye came back. “Could smell you! Could smell you and Wildsong and Bloodflower with many, many men!”

Cale blinked in surprise. Was their sense of smell really that good? Liass made eye contact with him for a moment, and he snapped back into focus.

“Silvereye, how far are you from the battle site?” he asked.

“Not far,” Silvereye replied. “Can smell blood. Hear the bangs and booms. Featherclaw know this. Noisy man-fighting. Not quiet, like Featherclaw.”

“That’s what we need you to do now, Silvereye. We’ve got to push them into the woods. We need you to come at them from the side. Single out the magii. The more magii you take out, the less Elementals we have to deal with.”

“Yes,” Silvereye replied. “Yes, yes! Good plan. Good sight! Sharpsight knows well!”

Cale would have laughed, had the situation not been so dire. “Take ’em out, Silvereye.”

“So,” Liass began. “What exactly are you plotting?”

Cale looked back to Liass. “It’s simple,” he said. “The main Vectoran force is marching up the highway to town as we speak. It would take hours to stay here and fight this battle. We need to funnel these guys towards the town.”

“Towards the town?” Liass asked. “Are you mad? I thought that’s what we were trying to prevent!”

“This battle is wasting time the folks back in town don’t really have. We can’t afford to take care of these guys. Every minute we waste means more lives,” he said. “I have no doubt that these guys plan on meeting up with the others. If we force them down the mountain into town, they’ll meet up with their main force, and from there, we’ll push the bunch of them into the harbor.”

Liass thought about it for a moment, then nodded his assent. “Seems like a fine plan. I’ll start giving the orders,” he said.

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“Fuck,” Boone commented.

“That seems to be about the only word I’ve heard from your mouth since the battle began,” Keltz said.

Boone jabbed a finger in his face. “This is no time to get critical of my language,” he said. “They just broke through the fourth wall.”

The fourth wall was severely weakened due to having to have moved the Featherclaw regiment up to the logging roads. They were the fastest by far, able to dart and weave through the woods without slowing down for any obstacle, but it resulted in Vector being able to break through the defenses erected there quickly. Boone watched as the trucks began to appear over the rise on the highway, signaling the retreat. In moments, the Vectoran army would be visible.

“How fare the Halish forces?” Keltz asked.

“They’re pretty sure they can handle what’s up there, but they’re planning on pushing them down past the logging roads into town. Apparently Nalya and Terra are on their way here now,” Boone replied.

“How long will we have to hold them for?”

Boone looked back at the massed forces. There must have been nearly fifteen hundred crowded along the highway and the Crown Square parking lot. The fifty or so magii from the Magick Society were spread out into groups of ten, similarly to the Halish magii assembled. They were vastly outnumbered by the Vectorans, but the Vectorans weren’t expecting to be faced up against magii. Boone stepped out and took a final look around. He had stationed snipers up on the rooftops of the mall. Four on top of the grocery store, and several more along the roof of the strip of shops and stores. They were high enough to stay out of sight, and protected enough to make it difficult to be struck down by magick or Elementals.

Along the highway, the Halish regiments stood proudly waiting for the Vectoran advance, while in the parking lot, the regiments of the Dunsmith Army drilled.

Vector would arrive in minutes. Boone looked up, and in the distance could see the first of the Vectorans approaching.

“Fuck,” he muttered. A moment later, he ran over to the table and picked up the bullhorn.

“Attention!” he exclaimed. “Attention, folks, I need your attention.” He waited a moment until the excited chatter began to die down, took a deep breath, then continued. “We’re facing an enemy here,” he began. “Who doesn’t care about us. They never went to school like us. They never grew up watching Amos and Andy, or He-Man, or Power Rangers. They have no experience with things like baseball, or Saturday Night Live.” He sighed. “People are going to die here, today. Vectoran and Halish and Canadian alike, blood will be spilled. But remember the golden rule. Better them than you.”

He paused for a moment, feeling for the effect. “This battle is going to begin shortly, and it’s nothing like what you see in the movies. Real battles are bloody. They’re gory, and chances are you will have to take lives in order to see it through in one piece.” He jabbed his finger at the Vectoran horde, now advancing towards them at an increased pace. The first of the retreating soldiers from the fourth wall were now nearly upon them. “Remember that these people don’t hold the same values. They don’t care about our freedom. They don’t care about our rights. They only want us gone. They want us dead and buried, erased from the pages of Pactlandian history.”

He chewed on that for a moment before continuing. “Well, I’m a Canadian, Goddammit, and I refuse to play by their rules. I refuse to cow to their will. I refuse to allow them to come in here like they own the place. Today, we make our stand. Together, as Canadians,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter if you’re Canadian, or Halish, or Raszan, or whatever you may be. This is our stand. This is our place in the pages of history. Together, we stand for freedom. Together, we stand for justice, and together we stand as brothers. We will not let them walk all over us. We will not bend to their will.”

Among the crowd, excited murmuring began again. Boone looked out over the mass of nodding heads and raised rifles and swords.

He looked back, saw that the Vectorans were drawing nearer.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s show them what it means to be Canadian!”

At that, the loudest war cry ever heard erupted from the parking lot of Crown Square Mall. The massed soldiers raised their weapons, and began to march forward, ready to clash with the Vectorans.

 

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“What do you make of it, Sire?” Ynnia asked, looking through the spyglass. “That can’t be it, can it? It looks to be less than two thousand men.”

Ryde nodded his head. Indeed, it did seem rather small. Reports had said that the town hosted no less than eight thousand souls. But then again, many of those he’d seen from the town thus far had been old. Even his report from the interrogation of Andy Johnson stated that it had been a retirement town, meant for people at the end of their lives to go and settle before death.

“I think it may be,” Ryde said. “Unless, of course, they somehow learned of the surprise attack.”

The highway had led past several interesting sights. The strange ships that rained fire down upon them had only scratched the surface. Strange buildings, wooden carvings and signs that proclaimed shops and landfills dotted the landscape. Homes and other buildings lined the sides of the highway and the road beyond. His men had been anxious to loot, but Ryde made it strictly clear that any man of Vector found neglecting his duties to the Empire would be strung up before the next dawn. They could loot when the battle was won. Thus were the spoils of victory.

At the front battle-lines, his men were surging forward, while Ryde hung back outside the range of their guns with his Captains and the rest of the command chain. The orders were simple, push forward. Kill any who oppose, and capture none. Ryde meant for every soul in the town to be dead by the next dawn, and then he would claim the land in the name of Tammil Cuerian, and sign the deed of ownership in the blood of Dunsmith.

The men continued to push forward. It wasn’t until they had come almost upon them that Dunsmith’s gathered forces let out a great cry, and advanced  up the highway towards them.

“Fools or not, I must afford them at least a little respect,” Ryde mentioned. “They’re a brave people, to send so little against so many.” He smiled, then looked to Ynnia. “Wouldn’t you say?”

Ynnia was about to reply when something caught his attention in the distance. It was barely noticeable at first, but as Ryde paid closer attention, he realized what it was.

Lightning. A Voltimagi’s tool. But it did not come from his own men, no. It came instead from the Dunsmith forces.

A moment later, he could plainly see evidence of Pyromagii.

Suddenly, his face turned sour. “There are magii,” he said.

Ynnia looked up to him. “That’s impossible,” he said. “The prisoners, Johnson and Bond. They–”

“They lied!” Ryde exclaimed, then kicked Ynnia hard in the face. The man fell over backwards, cradling his lip. Ryde dismounted from his horse and threw off his cape.

“Sire, I–”

“It doesn’t matter. Both prisoners are awaiting us in Anastae. When we’ve done our work here, I will ensure they are punished. Their deaths will not be quick, of that I can promise.” He pulled his sword out from his sheath.

“Sire?” Ynnia asked.

Ryde looked at his sword. “It’s been some time since my steel has tasted fresh blood,” he said. “If there’s a victory to be had, I will take part in it.” He looked over to Giger, who was waiting silently nearby. “Take the magii in. Separate the other magii from their main force and take them out.”

“Yes, Sire,” Giger said, nodding.

“And when you get there, Arman Giger,” Ryde continued. “Burn every building to the ground.”

 

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By the time Nalya and Terra had reached Crown Square it was full of soldiers. The fighting had been concentrated within the shopping center’s parking lot. Magii were strewn about everywhere. Already fires began to burn, and Terra’s eye shot open as she saw the familiar golden arches of the McDonald’s melting under the intense heat of the flame.

“Holy crap,” Terra commented. “They’re burning down the McDonald’s!”

“They’re liable to burn down much more than that,” Nalya said. She looked around frantically, then located the command tent. She spied the familiar form of Keltz and Syrel as they shouted orders. With them was Boone. She grabbed Terra by the hand and dragged her over.

Keltz was the first to notice her. “Lady!” he exclaimed.

“How fares the battle?” she asked.

He shook his head gravely. “We’re fighting back with all we have,” he said. “But they’re still advancing on us.”

“Murphy?” Boone asked. He regarded Terra for a moment. “Where are the others?”

“Still up in the logging roads,” she replied. “It’s a bloodbath up there.”

“It’s a bloodbath here, too,” Boone replied. He swept his arm across the parking lot. The fighting hadn’t yet gone as far as the command tent, but it was gaining. “They’ve only just started sending their magii in at us, but it’s decimating us. We’re not going to last long here. An hour, maybe two before they’ve completely overrun us.”

“What then?” Nalya asked.

Boone looked at her gravely. “You don’t want to know.”

“There are two roadway bridges leading over into the downtown region,” Keltz said. “Should the Vectorans take Crown Square, we’re going to destroy them.”

Boone nodded. “It won’t stop them, but it’ll slow them down enough to give us a chance to get the hell out of here.” He sighed.

“That’s the last thing you’d want to do,” Nalya said. “If Vector manages to unlock the secrets of your science, there’s not a force in all of the Pactlands that would be able to stop them.”

“Trust me,” Boone said. “That’s the last thing we want.” He turned back towards the ensuing battle. “Still, it’s a lot better knowing that reinforcements are on their way. I received word from Shephard not long ago. They’re planning on pushing the two Vectoran forces together. They planned on putting us in the pincer, but it looks like it’s going to go the other way.”

Nalya nodded. She looked up as the flames engulfed the McDonald’s and threatened to spread to the small coffee shop next door. Halish Aquamagii were doing what they could to battle the blaze, but the Vectoran magii were attacking them outright. Not to mention that water was fast becoming scarce. She quickly looked to Keltz. “There’s little sense in trying to put out those flames while the battle rages,” she said. “Pull those Aquamagii away from the flames, move them towards a source of water.” She quickly stepped up, then reviewed the maps before her. “Here,” she said, pointing to a spot on the map where a water spigot had been marked. “Put them here. Have the water flowing. We’ll need Pyromagii, and–”

“Aquamagii and Pyromagii?” Keltz asked. “Lady, surely you aren’t–”

“I am,” she said.

“What?” Boone asked. “What is it?”

Keltz looked at Boone and said simply, “she wants to set up an icestorm.”

“An icestorm?” Boone asked. “I don’t get it.”

“It’s simple, but incredibly dangerous, specifically for the Aquamagii. Men have been known to freeze to death in the casting of an icestorm.”

“Okay, so what’s an icestorm?”

“Aquamagii shape the water into many small, sharp points,” Nalya explained. “They throw volley after volley through a field of cold air, generated by Pyromagii. The water is frozen instantly.”

“I thought Pyromagii controlled fire,” Boone said.

Nalya nodded. “They do, but to be more precise, Pyromagii control heat. They can give heat, and take heat away.”

Boone mulled it over for a moment. “I get it,” he said. “Turning the water into sharp projectile weapons.” He nodded his approval. “I like it. Get ‘er done.”

Nalya nodded, then started to plot out the battle on the map in front of her.

 

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Lily wasn’t sure she’d ever been so nervous. She was tired and sore, but she was needed, kept awake on pure adrenaline. Even in the early morning hours during the raid on Anastae, she hadn’t been so nervous. She shook like a leaf, of course, but she had been prepared for what she was going in for.

That, however, had been on foreign ground. A city occupied by a people that, up until a few weeks earlier, she had never heard of.

And now those same people were marching up the streets of Dunsmith, a sight as foreign to her as the city she had helped to raid early in the morning.

The battle had been going for a full twenty minutes before the Vectoran magii started to come up to the forefront, focusing their attacks on the other magii. As if the magii weren’t bad enough, they seemed to have a small army of Elementals with them.

But, Lily had quickly learned the secret to dealing with Elementals. Without a magi to lend his or her power, they would revert back to harmless, lifeless stone. Lily wasted no time in focusing her attacks on the magii that were controlling the Elementals, and instructed the other society members with her to do the same.

They had taken out several magii by the time that Lily noticed something peculiar. The Halish magii were being forced towards them, pushed back by Vector. They were attempting to herd them together. That could only have meant one thing. They intended on killing all of their magii in one fell swoop.

Lily looked to her left and saw Raine engulf a man in flames. He screamed ceaselessly, while Raine looked on, grim-faced.

“Raine!” Lily exclaimed.

He suddenly looked up and over to her.

“We need to spread out!” she said. “They’re pushing us together, we can’t let them get us all in one place!”

Raine looked around, then nodded. He ran towards the middle of the parking lot, informing other magii of the plan as she passed them.

Lily scanned the grounds. Already the battle had moved up into the parking lot of Crown Square, and she could almost smell the spilled blood as it coated the surface of the asphalt. She started zagging around, zapping Vectoran soldiers as she passed, trying to lay low and remain unnoticed by the Vectoran magii.

She almost slipped as a pistol slid across the ground in front of her. She picked it up, then looked over to the source and gasped. Goose Payne lay on the ground, shielding his face as a Vectoran soldier raised his sword to strike down on him. Lily acted quickly, lashing out with her power, electrocuting the man and sending him spasming to the ground. She walked over and took Goose by the hand, lifting him to his feet.

“Thanks,” Goose said. “My goose was just about cooked there.”

Lily ignored his joke, focused more on making sure the man was alive. She handed the pistol back to him. “Here,” she said. “You should get back to the command tent.”

Goose nodded, but pushed the gun back into her hands. “There’s about four rounds left,” he said. “You’ll need it more than I will. I think I’m going to sit this battle out.”

Lily nodded, then pushed the man away. She stuck the gun in her waistline and continued on, passing the message on to as many magii as she could locate, fighting all the while.

Lily’s battle style thus far had consisted solely of unexpected attacks, so when she was unexpectedly blindsided by a spire of flame, she fell to the ground in surprise and shock, covering her head. As it passed over her harmlessly, she located the source. A man wearing thick robes stood there, smirking at her.

“A battle’s no place for a Lady, girl,” he said. He began to spin his hands around, the flame growing under them.

Lily got to her feet and scowled. “Do I look like a fucking Lady to you, pal?” she shot back.

The magi smirked. “Do not worry,” he said. “I will make this quick.” He began to push the flame out towards Lily, causing her to dive out of its path, when it was suddenly cut off. Lily looked back up to see the magi sprawled on the ground, looking around in utter confusion.

“I don’t think so, Giger,” Boomer said, walking past Lily.

The magi, Giger, looked up at Boomer with shock. Suddenly, his eyes narrowed. “Bond,” he said. “How could I have guessed?” He stood up and brushed himself off. “I know not how you managed to escape Anastae or beat us here, but it matters little. I now have leave to do with you as I wish,” he said. He began to form the flames in his hands once more.

Boomer merely stood his ground, regarding the man.

Lily had seen Boomer do some crazy things since that morning. She’d seen him kill a man using only his mind. She’d seen the evidence of him repeating the act several more times, but she also knew that he was as tired as she was– and like her, his powers were no doubt weakened as well, otherwise, she expected Giger would have been nothing more than a stain on the pavement.

“It was a real pleasure knowing you, Bond,” Giger announced, and then let loose with his flame.

Boomer stood his ground. Lily watched in shock and horror as the flames engulfed him whole. She was about to rush in to push him out of the way when she noticed something peculiar.

Giger’s flames weren’t touching Boomer at all. In fact, they seemed to wrap around an invisible barrier of some kind. Lily could do little else other than observe.

Giger stopped, the look on his face twisting into confusion.

“How?” he began, but Boomer only answered by throwing his arm up in the air.  The air seemed to vibrate out from Boomer as something knocked Giger back nearly ten feet, crashing through the window of the grocery store.

Suddenly, from behind Boomer, Lily noticed a man approaching, his sword raised in the air.

“Boomer!” she exclaimed. “Look out!” she rushed up and let loose with her powers, and it flooded into the man’s armor, sending him sprawling back against the ground.

But he got up in an instant, scowling at Lily.

How had he done that? He should have been fried! It didn’t make any sense.

“Ryde,” Boomer said, looking at the man.

“Bond,” Ryde replied, staring back at him. “Or is it Boomer?”

Boomer turned to face Lily. “You take care of Giger,” he said. “Ryde and I have a score to settle.”

 

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Silvereye watched carefully from the concealment of the forest. Since the Quicktooth had arrived in Dunsmith, they’d been subject to any number of strange smells and sights. To be honest, Dunsmith smelled of fire and smoke, even when none were burning. The people smelled much the same, the scent ingrained into them.

But since the battle had begun, the smells had given over into blood and bile. Once, just before the battle started, Silvereye swore he could smell something familiar. Not just Wildsong and the others, but something that struck a memory from much further back. Back even before Silvereye had earned him name among the Featherclaw. Back before Silvereye even knew about the Featherclaw.

But he shoved it from his mind. To take part in the hunt, one had to be clear-headed, and the hunt was now on. It was important to the Quicktooth to remain unseen, and to begin, they had been picking off stragglers among the Vectorans. Men who ventured too close to the tree line were pulled in, their throats slit before they could raise a cry of warning. Thus far, the Vectorans hadn’t noticed. Or at least, if they had, they weren’t focusing any attack whatsoever upon the Featherclaw.

Sharpscent suddenly picked up an interesting scent, then looked to Silvereye.

“I smell more,” he said, using the squawking, cooing and barking that were indicative of the Featherclaw. “Back down the road a ways. Four that stand alone, and an injured man.”

“Healers?” Silvereye asked. “Human healers?”

“No,” Sharpscent replied. “I cannot smell the scent of magick within them. They are the giftless.”

Silvereye sniffed the air. His sense of smell had never been as good as Sharpscent, but Silvereye was the most clever among the Quicktooth. Some have even said he would have been better among the Highcrest tribe, but Silvereye enjoyed the hunt too much. He refused to be reduced to arguing with a bunch of grouchy old birds who would never truly accept him. After all, he was raised among men. In the beginning, he could only speak as men. It had taken him some time to learn the native language of the Featherclaw.

He caught the familiar scent again, coming from the location of the battle. It had moved further down the mountain towards the town. In fact, Silvereye guessed that within the hour, the battle would have joined with the one already underway at Crown Square.

He then caught the scent Sharpscent had been talking about. It wasn’t far, just down the way. But there would be five stragglers less in Vector’s forces. He gave Sharpscent a look, and then the two started to stalk through the bushes, moving quickly.

The Quicktooth had sent word to the other Featherclaw tribes. Told them of Wildsong’s scent and that they had given Flenn’s sword back to the possession of man. Still, there was no reply. Silvereye imagined that the Highcrest were busy ruffling up their crests and posing for each other at the decision of what to do. Still, it would be some time before either the Highcrest or the Steelclaw make a decision. Theirs were a patient people, but the Quicktooth always favored action over indecision.

The finally traveled a ways and came within sight of the four men. They walked alongside a wagon, pulled by two small horses. Silvereye turned up the corners of his lips at the thought of the meal the two beasts would make, but there was hardly time to clean and roast the animals. After all, they had work to do.

“The one in the wagon lies injured,” Sharpscent said. “He is near death.” He sniffed the air again. “And he has the smell of a Halo-Child.”

Silvereye sniffed the air again, gingerly. Yes. Yes, he could smell it. He had the stink of Vector in him, but underneath he had the scent of the Dunsmith men. Silvereye had been told that spies had been sent into the Vectoran camps. Suddenly, he looked over to Sharpscent.

“He is one of the Halo-Children,” he said. “A spy sent to throw Vector into turmoil. They must have discovered him.”

Sharpscent nodded. “Then he is near death. We should strike now, before his last breath.”

Silvereye nodded his assent, then the two began to separate. Silvereye crept up behind them, down the road a ways and darted across the road quickly, situating himself on the other side. He kept a keen eye on Sharpscent’s shape as it moved slowly through the woods. When each of them were arranged on either side of the wagon, Silvereye barked loudly.

The soldiers quickly stopped walking and turned towards him. Two began to draw their swords.

It was that moment that Sharpscent came out of the woods, pouncing upon a soldier, knocking him face-first to the ground. He stood atop him and then leaped at a second soldier, slashing his throat with his foreclaw.

Silvereye wasted no time in making the attack on the other two soldiers. While they were distracted by Sharpscent, he snuck in behind and quietly yet strongly struck one of the soldiers between the legs, severing a main artery and causing blood to spurt out with each heartbeat.

The last soldier began to back up, swinging his sword wildly as Silvereye and Sharpscent began to close in on him.

“Beasts!” he exclaimed. “Monsters!”

Silvereye didn’t honor him with a response. He feigned an attack, making it appear as though he were going to go in for the kill. When his attention was focused solely on Silvereye, Sharpscent went in for the kill, grabbing the man’s neck between his jaws a wrenching on it until it snapped. The man fell motionless to the ground.

The first man that Sharpscent had merely knocked down was now trying to scramble up from the dirt, and Sharpscent turned to face him. He fell back onto his rear and scrambled back on his hands and feet, kicking dirt up in his wake.

Sharpscent merely stalked towards him and bared his teeth.

When the attack came, it came quickly. Sharpscent leaped towards the man, but he’d been careless. Silvereye was watching the man closely, observing his actions. Silvereye alone saw that he had been slowly pulling his sword out from his sheath. He gave a surprised bark of warning as Sharpscent launched his attack, but he hadn’t heeded it. The sword came up as the two collided, running right through Sharpscent’s belly. Silvereye looked on in shock as Sharpscent spasmed, wrenching his head back and forth as he screeched in pain. He lashed out violently with his claws, cutting the man under him open.

Silvereye ran over to Sharpscent.

“No!” he exclaimed. “Brother!”

Sharpscent only looked back at Silvereye, weakly attempting to hold his head up as the man below collapsed, motionless. “I have… lived with honor?” he asked.

“Yes,” Silvereye replied. “Yes, Brother. You have lived a full life of true honor.” He caressed Sharpscent’s snout, feeling for the breath that still came from it. “But there is still time. If we… the humans have healers–”

“No,” Sharpscent said. “No men. No healers.” He coughed, and his whole body rocked. “I feel the life slipping from me,” he said. “Tell the others of me. Please let my name be remembered.”

Silvereye could only watch as the life slipped away from his friend. “I will,” Silvereye replied. “Brother, I will. Your name will be inscribed upon the totem in the nesting ground. For ever onwards, all the chicks of the Featherclaw will know your name.”

If Sharpscent had heard what he said, he gave no reply. Slowly, his eyes began to close, and the breath stopped coming from his nostrils. Silvereye regarded the corpse with dismay for a moment, then stepped back. He looked back down the road. It was clear of soldiers and of men altogether.

Finally, Silvereye walked towards the wagon and hopped up to its rim, looking inside. There, a young man lay bleeding from a deep wound to his stomach. Some pieces of his intestines were hanging out, and he was very near death, but his smell was unmistakable.

This man was from Dunsmith.

He plucked the radio from the holster he’d made for it and turned it on.

“This Silvereye,” he said. “Man is hurt. Your man, Dunsmith man. Is hurt and needs help.” He looked back to Sharpscent and sighed. “Sharpscent is dead.”

 

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Ryan wiped the sweat off of his forehead as he experienced a lull in the fighting. They’d had the Vectorans on the run now, and they were making record time in climbing down the long hilly roads that led in behind the town. Ryan could see smoke rising up in the distance, coming from Crown Square, the obvious site of the battle. Ryan had lost count of how many he’d fought. Every time the sword perceived a threat, it forced Ryan into action, utilizing moves and maneuvers he’d never even known existed, yet performed flawlessly. Still, as sweaty and achy as he’d been, it was all forgotten the moment the sword came into control, energizing him instantly.

It was growing late into the afternoon by the time Ryan had caught sight of the back of several houses along the logging roads. They’ve been evacuated already, thankfully, but the Vectoran soldiers were busy scaling the fences in an effort to hide or run from the Halish force.

“You’re making me look bad,” Corpus said, smirking at Ryan.

“Oh, is it me?” Ryan asked. “Sorry, I was under the impression that you were actually good at this.”

Corpus smiled back at him, laughing. “I was trained my whole life for it,” he said. “Can you say the same?”

“Nope,” he said. “I’ve probably had all of twenty minutes of training.” He held up the Twilight Blade. “But then, I’ve also got a cheat code.”

Corpus wasn’t sure what he’d meant by that, but shrugged it off either way. He looked over to the houses as they appeared through the trees. “We’re close now,” he said.

Ryan nodded. “The Vectorans will already be down in the streets. There’s nowhere for them to go except Crown Square, or south, out of town. Either direction works for me.” He looked back to Cale and Liass as they marched down with them. “We’re about ten, maybe fifteen minutes from the mall. We’d better pick up the pace before they burn the place down.” He motioned up to the rising spire of smoke in the distance.

“Hey!” came a call from behind them. Ryan looked back to see Cale running up. “Thought you’d like to know, Silvereye just met up with our forces back up the mountain. He found Justin.”

Ryan’s eyes shot open. “He did? Is he all right?”

Cale shook his head. “He’s pretty hurt,” he said. “Silvereye brought him straight to the healers, but at least he’s still alive.”

Ryan furrowed his brow. “Bastards,” he said, then turned back to the road.

Liass came down the road after Cale, galloping on horseback. “How far now?” he asked.

“Not far,” Cale replied. “Just past this row of houses we’ll find the gate that takes us into the town. From there, it’s pavement all the way down to Crown Square. We’ll make quick time then.”

Liass eyed the pillar of smoke and nodded. “Then we best make haste,” he said. “Especially if we have any hope of winning this by nightfall. We can’t allow the soldiers to slip into the forests unseen.” He motioned to the sun, which was still high in the sky, but veering towards the west, ready to make the descent into night.

Cale looked from Liass to Ryan and nodded. “Let’s get this show on the road,” he said.

Ryan smiled. He looked back towards the last of the retreating Vectorans. “Charge,” he said, then took off running.

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Published inChildren of the Halo
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