Meadows of Heaven
Xadian and Alida rushed through the city. It took them ten minutes to walk the half mile through the winding streets. When they got to the edge of the disc, there was already a Night-Wing waiting for them. They stood next to him as he unlocked a platform from the city-disc. They fell through the air much faster than they had risen three days before. In a little less than a minute they were already below the clouds. The only one on the disc not scared by the speed was the new Night-Wing, who kept his eyes on his feet as if he could see through the floor. He obviously saw something, as all of a sudden he banged his staff on the platform and they started slowing down. Xadian crawled to the edge of the disc, partly to throw up the stigma he'd drank ten minutes before and partly to see how close they were to death. The ground was rushing towards him, still much faster than he'd like. The new Night-Wing banged his staff again, and they came to a complete stop, hovering three feet above the ground. Xadian didn't even get up, he just rolled off the platform, landing on his back with a thump. He looked up at Alida's face hovering over him. She looked almost like an angel with her face framed by the sky. He pushed the thought from his mind, still afraid of what Okeana would do to him.
She rolled off the platform and would have landed on him if he hadn't stood up. She gave him a dirty look, getting up herself.
“Whenever you two are done, I need to get back to Cielo.” The Night-Wing standing on the platform called out.
Alida tapped the platform and dismissed him. They watched him rise into the sky. Xadian looked around to get his bearings, then grabbed Alida. They needed to get to Whitefall, but first he had to return to the Council and tell them that the Night-Wings wouldn't be any trouble. They started walking.
Xadian sat in his throne. It had taken a bit of work but he'd managed to get Alida into the Lord's Hall. Much to the dismay of Okeana Water-Shifter. His throne was a little cramped. Okeana was sitting on one armrest and Alida, not to be outdone, was on the other. They were glaring at each other over Xadian's head. Arcanus was attempting to ask for a report but his attention was being usurped by the constant sniggering of the other Lords.
“As I was saying.” He began again, casting a withering glance in the direction of the snickers. “Do we have their-, WOULD YOU STOP THAT?!” Everyone shrank back in their thrones, sure that they were the ones doing something wrong. Alida almost fell off her armrest.
“Just tell me what the damn pigeons said.” He finally got out.
“They'll stay out of our way.”
Arcanus was silent for a moment. “They sent the child with you... why?”
“As their assurance that they wouldn't interfere. Or maybe because they don't like me.” Okeana brightened up a bit.
“Fenix, how'd it go with the humans?” Xadian changed the subject.
While Xadian had been in the sky talking to the Night-Wings, Fenix had handled the negotiations with the humans. They all knew that the humans would most likely be the deciding factor in the war. The humans didn't like the vampires very much, what with the constant oppression and feeding. If they decided to join the werewolves, than the war just got that much harder to win.
“There was a bit of trouble, but they agreed eventually.” Fenix Fire-Slayer replied. Xadian wondered how he'd handled the trouble. Fenix had a habit of talking with his sword.
Lucian reported that he couldn't find any phantoms. Their cities were empty, and the surrounding areas were strangely devoid of the ghostly beings. Xadian had expected as much. Vampires and phantoms had long had problems with each other. Over the centuries they'd been enslaved, released and then enslaved again. It was somewhat of a joke in vampire society that whenever the vampires needed something they just needed to 'fetch the phantoms'. The phantoms had never really recovered from the last bout of enslavement. Xadian suspected that Lucian had actually managed to find the Otherworld Council, but was lying to Arcanus to protect them. Something that Xadian, in this case, supported. No one had bothered with any of the other races, most being too insignificant to do any good.
“Xadian.” It was Kun Earth-Breaker. He was the only Lord who was higher ranking than Xadian, and that was only because Kun was also the highest general in the entire command structure. Arcanus might have been in charge but everyone knew Kun had all the power in times of war. “I want you to go check out Whitefall. Then you're going straight to the front lines. Crale was the first one in but he's not making much progress. Grab a squad. I'll let you pick whoever.”
Xadian wished he had more time with Okeana, but he agreed anyway. As he left to pick his squad, he was thinking he knew exactly who to choose.
A day later he was picking through the rubble of Whitefall. His squad was spread out around the city. The attack had happened a week ago but they were still under a lot of pressure from the humans to find survivors. Xadian didn't hold out much hope. The attack had been vicious, but he could see the planning behind it. The werewolves had picked their target carefully.
Whitefall wasn't a large city, not even a city really. It was more of a glorified town. That didn't change the fact that pretty much every road in all of the land met up at Whitefall at some point. It was the largest trading center in the land, with a giant trade fair every six months. It was one of the largest events in the world, with new technology and art from all over the world. Even certain werewolves were granted passes to attend. Whitefall was also within ten miles of the border between vampire country and werewolf land. The population was mostly human, with a small colony of phantoms. There had been almost no vampire presence, as the next fair had been a good four months away. He picked his way through a building that had collapsed. He came across an arm sticking out of the rubble. He picked it up, expecting resistance from the rest of the body. But the arm came free in his hand. There was nothing attached. Disgusted and a little enraged, he threw the arm away. There had been talk of this war for a year now, but this was the first time he felt like there was a reason for it. The barbarism of this attack struck him, filling him with anger. Then he thought of how, soon, the werewolves would be doing the same thing he was doing right now, picking through the rubble of their own cities, looking at their own dead. The anger drained from him, leaving him empty.
He turned around and saw his second in command, Senka Shade-Singer, watching him, leaning in a doorway with her arms crossed over her chest. She looked young, about thirteen, even after the period of advanced aging that follows being turned. She must have been turned a good four or five years before the normal age. Even so, she was powerful, and if she had been six inches taller she would have been able to take him in a straight fight. Most humans would laugh at the idea of someone who looked so young being in a position of power. But Xadian had worked with her before, and he trusted her judgment.
She uncrossed her arms and walked over to him.
Xadian began. “I can't stop thinking. Can we do this? Go out and destroy their cities? Kill them? All of them?”
Senka thought for a moment.”Of course we can. There's no way they can win. We're too powerful.”
“That's not what I mean.”
“I know what you mean. It's not up to us Xadian. We didn't ask for this war. But it's here. It's either us or them.”
She looked at him with admiration. All of his fighters respected him. There were some who might say that Senka's admiration was less than professional, and he'd voiced his concerns to her in the past. She'd assured him that her feelings never interfered with her work. He trusted her on that.
Their thoughts were broken by another of his squad, Arex of the Dark. He was carrying what looked like a sword wrapped in cloth. Xadian viewed Arex with contempt. His ambitions were too high, and he was too ready to fight for rank. And besides that, he found the whole Council of the Elements to be a laughable attempt to gain imaginary rank. The members went so far as to drop their descriptive and clan names in favor of self imposed titles. If Arex hadn't been just as powerful as Senka he wouldn't be in Xadian's squad at all.
“Package came in for you Xadian. It's from Tresoir.” He'd done it again. Dropped the 'sir' that only Senka was allowed to omit. Xadian was tempted to punish Arex for pretending at power, but it would have to wait. “Guy said not to touch the sword itself.
Xadian took the sword, taking care to hold it through the cloth. Tresoir, pronounced Tress-Wah, was the main laboratory where they made and tested new magic technology. They'd made incredibly dangerous weapons, bombs that shot silver dust, to fight werewolves, and swords imbued with sunlight to fight vampires, to name a few. They'd caught hell for those when vampires in general found out. He couldn't imagine what new hell they'd made for him. He removed the cloth from the blade. The blade didn't gleam, even in the moonlight. It simply absorbed the light. Hesitantly, he ran a finger along the blade. He dropped the sword. He'd barely touched it, not even the sharp edge, but it still cut him, a long slash along his index finger. At the same time, the blade had turned transparent, and he could see a dark shape writhing inside. When his blood touched the blade, the darkness jumped, compressing into a point where his blood was running down the sword. The blood slowly disappeared into the sword. He got the feeling that if he hadn't dropped it, it might have gone on to suck his soul out.
He left the sword on the ground, instead picking up a note that had fallen out of the cloth.
'Xadian, this is something the kids over at Tresoir cooked up. It's called a reaver. I thought you could use something a bit more powerful than your ShadeSword. Be careful with it. Three scientists died while making it, just had their souls sucked straight into the sword. -Kun'
It already made sense. His ShadeSword, one of the weapons that a vampire receives when being inducted into the Lords, acted as an focusing lens, letting him bring his power out more easily. It did this because it had a shard of someone's soul trapped in it, lending its own power to him. Just a shard. The reaver clearly never stopped taking in more souls, theoretically becoming more and more powerful as he used it. It already had at least three FULL souls trapped inside. He looked at it in disgust. It was a brutal weapon, not even killing his enemy, simply trapping his soul for eternity. He vowed that he wouldn't use it. His ShadeSword already made him the most powerful shadowmancer alive. No need to exacerbate it. And besides, he was afraid that he might lose his soul just by wielding the sword.
Senka watched the sword as if it were trying to kill her. She clearly felt the same way he did. For a second he entertained the thought the if they both focused their power they might be able to destroy the thing, then he pushed it from his mind. Arex reached for the sword, moving a little too quickly. Xadian and Senka both hissed at him, and he stepped back, the message clear. This sword was not meant for him, so eager for the power it held. Xadian wove a glove out of shadow and picked up the sword, careful not to let it touch his skin. He wasn't sure he'd be able to use it anyway. One wrong move and not only would he cut himself, he'd suffer for it. He started to ask Senka if she could carry it, but she shook her head before he even got a word out. He ran through a list of the men in his squad, settling on Rance, a vampire who, like him, was wary of power. He called out to him, and a head poked out from behind a building thirty feet away. Rance came over, saluting and, notably, not forgetting the sir. Xadian gave a meaningful glance to Arex and filled Rance in on the sword.
“Can I trust you with it?” He finished.
“Of course sir. But, sir, if we're so worried about it, why take it at all? We could leave it here, or even destroy it.”
“Like Kun said, I might need it. And if we leave it here, I don't know who might find it.” Rance understood the last comment, glancing at Arex. Xadian handed him the sword, noting the cool detachment that Rance handled it with. He wouldn't use it, even though Xadian could already see him stiffening with the power flowing from it. It was an addicting power. One use called for another, then another, until you were consumed by it. Xadian wondered if there were only vampire souls trapped in there, and not a demon or some other monstrosity. It wasn't above the fools over at Tresoir to summon some eldritch entity and bind it to a weapon or tool.
He glanced into the sky, looking for the bird that had been following him. It was there, a hundred feet in the air, it's long black wings somehow supporting its body. He'd told her to stay out of the squad's way, and like this she'd been able to help out. He motioned her closer, adamant that this was the last sweep of the town. Her wings folded and she dropped like a stone. He watched calmly. He'd stopped worrying about her the third time she'd done it. Sure enough, thirty feet above the ground her wings snapped out and she slowed until she, calmly, landed lightly on the ground. She never stopped trying to impress him, and Senka loathed her for it. It was visible in her face, along with the strange longing that vampires experienced when they saw a Night-Wing in the sky. When asked they would always say they preferred their feet on the ground, but whenever they watched, you could see they wanted the freedom of flight.
“Anything?” He asked Alida. She shook her head. He nodded. It was time to go. He fired a shadow shot into the air. The ball of darkness flew into the sky until it exploded in an uncharacteristic flash of light. In response his squad appeared out of the rubble and buildings. It took a minute for them all to assemble, giving him time to think. They'd been searching for six hours, since the sun went down. If there had been any survivors, they'd already cleared out of the town before his team got there. Now it was almost dawn, and the nearest vampire settlement was an hour's march. They could spend the day in Whitefall, but the werewolves had been in control of the town for three days. They had a nasty habit of laying traps in strange places, and Xadian didn't fancy the idea of laying on a bed that had a bomb under it.They would have to weave cloaks out of the shadows before they disappeared, to protect themselves from the sunlight. He would also have to send a runner out to Kun asking for orders. He smiled at the thought of receiving orders. He normally didn't have to follow orders. Rance was usually his runner, but he was carrying the reaver at the moment. He didn't want to send Senka, and he didn't trust Arex to do it. He glanced over at his men and a smile broke on his face.
“Ah, Alida, could you come here?” He called. He was almost giddy at the thought of getting rid of her for a few hours. Besides that, she could get to Kun and back faster than any of his men. She walked over from where she had been talking with his squad. They were paying a lot of attention to her. Xadian normally wouldn't mind. If he could hook her up with one of them it might get her to stop flirting with him. Might. But now, as they were going into battle in the next few days, he wanted his men's minds on the fight.
“You called, master?” She grinned.
“Fly to Arondite and ask Kun where I'm going. He says he's the smartest vampire alive but he sucks at giving directions.”
The next night they were at the line marking the start of the wastelands. It was a surreal place. It looked like any other stretch of ground, until you got to the werewolves' side. Then the grass and trees suddenly died off, almost in a straight line stretching into the horizon. The ground went from brown to pale almost immediately. Even the sky seemed different, with more clouds crowding around the wolf side of the border. It had been getting colder over the last mile, not enough to encourage the vampires to bundle up, but the chill in the air was noticeable. The few breaths that they took created mist in the air, making Rance wipe his glasses every few minutes. They'd stood there for a few minutes, for some reason afraid to step across the border, as if that would be the real beginning of the war and simply staying put would stop it.
Finally Xadian broke the revery and stepped across the border. Encouraged, the rest of the vampires stepped across as well. Xadian set them into a hard march. He wanted to find shelter before daybreak.
As they walked Xadian thought about the legend explaining why the wastes of the north were so different from the mainland. He'd never heard it until Alida had recited it out loud on the way to the border.
“Long ago.” She'd began with the look of a practiced story teller. “When the gods were young and the Ancients still lived, the world was immaterial. Shape and energy flowed like water, called upon by the gods for their fancies and whims. The Ancients were at their most powerful at that time, using the endless power to create weapons and tools for the gods. No one knows what happened, or who made the first transgression, but a war broke out between the Ancients and their makers. The gods were immortal, but the Ancients, after so much practice, were the more adept at shaping traps and weapons, and were not easily beaten. The Ancients fought hard, even trapping Adetheus, the God of gods, deep in the center of the earth. Finally, the gods tired of the war, which had raged for a thousand years. In a final act, they bound the matter of the universe, and trapped the energies away from the Ancients. The Ancients were not helpless, but they were weakened, to the point that they were forced to submit to the gods, or face extinction. Many Ancients died during their punishment, and most that remain are still locked in their jails. However, the gods looked upon the earth, and were disgusted. With the shape and substance bound in place, there was no more beauty. So, they tasked the Ancients one last time. Together, they walked across the earth, and as their feet touched the ground it became green with life. And so they bestowed upon the earth life to replace what beauty had been lost in the war, creating oceans and forests across the lands. But as they reached the far north, they stopped. This was where Adetheus, God of gods, and Aracame, the Lord of the Ancients, had buried themselves in the molten ground, still fighting. They hadn't been seen since that battle. The Ancients revered this ground as a monument, and the gods, exhausted from the war, did not wish to inflame the matter. So, they left the north as a wasteland, a monument to the two strongest beings to exist. And that,” She grinned. “Is why the north is a wasteland.”
As they walked, Xadian contemplated the legend. It had taken a thousand years for the gods to tire of war, and afterward they were too exhausted to fight again. How long would it take for the vampires and werewolves to stop fighting? And what would remain?
They kept to the outskirts of the city, creeping through side streets. Xadian didn't like it. He'd met up with Crale's squad two villages ago. Crale was practically carrying an army with him, unlike Xadian and his single squad of about fifteen fighters. Crale had been trying for this city, Krendae, for a week and a half. He'd somehow botched the first attempt, losing twenty fighters in the process despite having the advantage of surprise. He'd had to withdraw for a day, giving the werewolves time to reinforce the city. Now it was up to him and his squad.
He didn't even know why they were trying to take this city, it wasn't near anything valuable and it wasn't part of a supply line. Nonetheless, Kun wanted it, for whatever reason. Which was why Xadian was now stealing through the streets with Senka and three more fighters. Not Arex, he'd been left with the others and Alida back with Crale. Xadian felt that Arex's abilities would be best used in the second part of his plan.
They rounded a corner and found themselves in a large open area. It was a town square of sorts.
“Okay everyone, once we've completed the objective we'll return here for the battle. Arian, stay here and fire the second flare when I give the signal.” Xadian said. The vampire he'd given the order to, a girl who appeared to be about seventeen, snapped a salute and started laying out her weapons in the middle of the square. Xadian and the rest of the squad moved off. Two turns later they stopped to consult a map. Over the course of the three failed raids Crale had led, his forces had been able to piece together a plausible map from their memories. The scale was all wrong but it was easy enough to make it work. They turned another corner and arrived at their target.
It was a large building, which looked quickly put together. It had been built rapidly after Crale's first strike. It was a barracks, housing two hundred werewolf soldiers that had been sent to guard the city. These soldiers were the main reason Crale's second and third attempts had failed. It was up to Xadian and his squad to make sure they wouldn't do it again.
They split up, moving around the building and each staying at a corner. Xadian crouched at his, darkness bubbling over from where the buildings cast shadows in the moonlight. It laid at his feet, covering something he'd placed on the ground. He crouched and patted the shade, making sure it was solid. He stood up and held his hand out in the air. A ball of shadow formed in his palm before flying out into the sky. It flew thirty feet and exploded, making the sky darker for a brief moment. Nothing anyone would notice, unless they were looking for it. Arian knew to wait two minutes and then fire another flare, this one to alert Crale's army. Xadian heard footsteps and turned, expecting to see Senka. Instead, he found himself face to muzzle with a seven foot monster. A werewolf, already morphed into its wolf form.
Xadian cursed and went for his sword. The werewolf raised his back, letting out a howl. The howl was cut short as Xadian lopped its head off, but the damage was done. He heard a ruckus in the barracks, and already men were starting to pour out of the doors. He yelled to his squad.
“Let's go guys!” He started running back the way he came.
Senka and the other two met up with him as he got to the opening to the streets. They kept running, chased by the werewolves.
“You three, the plan's starting now!” He yelled as they ran.
“Are we far enough away?” Senka yelled back.
“Doesn't matter!” They all clenched their fists, and the pockets of shadow that they'd left at the building moved. There was a sound of glass breaking, and then it all went to hell.
Inside the pockets of shadow lay glass bottles, one for each pocket. Inside the bottles, trapped by enchantments, were fire elementals, naturally occurring half demons that, when angered, were known to cause huge explosions, sometimes even destroying entire cities. Kun had warned them that they needed to be at least a hundred feet away before breaking the bottles. It didn't matter, they needed the explosion now. The shadows contracted, putting more and more pressure on the bottles. Until finally, they broke.
The building exploded, killing anyone left inside. Its explosion was so powerful that the buildings around the barracks were destroyed as well, simply toppling outward, the walls closest to the explosion just gone. A shockwave raced through the street, followed closely by a wave of flame. Any werewolves within fifty feet of the building were flung to the ground and then killed in the fire. The wave of fire flew through the street, chasing Xadian and his crew. They ran, leaping right over buildings in their attempts to get away from the fire. It still chased them, leaping through gaps between buildings in it's pursuit of them. One of the vampires, Clane, tripped as he jumped over a small cottage, catching his foot on a shingle. The fire consumed him in less than a second, scorching him from the earth. Looking back, Xadian cursed. He'd need every fighter he had if he expected to take this city. Finally, as if taking Clane had sated it, the fire fell back. Xadian looked ahead. The fire had followed them almost the entire two hundred feet back to the square. Running the final thirty feet through the entrance, they burst into the square just in time to see Arian fire her flare into the sky. Which meant they were also just in time to see a werewolf leap off a nearby building. And land on her.
Xadian fired a shadow shot, a ball of darkness accelerated to hundreds of miles an hour. It hit the werewolf in the chest and penetrated, killing him. But Arian was already dead, her head torn off. As Xadian ran to her, her flare lit up the sky above them. Crale and his army had better get there fast, otherwise Xadian and the two vampires he had left would be overrun. Already werewolves were lining the tops of the houses around the square, getting ready to jump down and annihilate them. They all had their heads turned slightly, as if watching something. Xadian followed their gazes and saw another werewolf, larger than the rest. Xadian ground his teeth, realizing the leader of the soldiers wouldn't sleep in the same barracks as the rest of them. He was high ranking, a commander, at least, or maybe even higher. Xadian could tell that much by his size and the way he held himself.
The werewolf held his hand above his head. Waited a beat. Brought it down. The werewolves lining the houses jumped down in two groups, one behind Xadian and one in front. Xadian stepped back, waving Senka and his last fighter behind him. As the werewolves leaped down, a wall of shadow burst from the ground, a simple wall about a foot thick that separated the two groups of werewolves. Xadian had effectively halved the number of werewolves he had to fight. Thirty were infinitely more manageable than sixty. He spun, his hands already moving to fire a barrage of shadow shots. He flung his hands out to the sides and a storm of dark spheres flew through the air, bouncing off walls and embedding themselves in werewolves. Seven went down immediately, as the rest dove for what little cover there was. By the time they had gotten back to their feet, the three vampires were already attacking. Senka rushed to a group of six and Xadian had to grin. She was always growing more ambitious in her fights. He and the last vampire he had, Aulis, went to work on the rest together. This was why Xadian had picked Aulis, he worked well with anyone.
Xadian ducked under a werewolf's sword, and Aulis vaulted over his back and punched the werewolf to the ground, allowing Xadian to stab him while Aulis rolled under another werewolf's sword. They both brought their swords out at the same time, both cutting into its chest. Another popped up behind them and grabbed Aulis, but Xadian popped it in the head with a shadow shot before spinning and taking out another with his sword. Only five minutes had passed since the battle had begun, but already they had taken out half of their opponents. For a second Xadian thought they might actually have a chance of winning this themselves. And then the wolves started racing in through the side streets.
They ran low to the ground, sprinting towards the battle. They leaped at the vampires. Aulis was knocked to the ground by one and, before Xadian could stop it, it took a bite out of Aulis's chest. Aulis screamed, and Xadian ran for him. But three more,walking on their hind legs now, stopped him, swinging their swords with a passion. He was forced back, keeping one eye on Aulis the entire way. There was no way he could get to him, and Aulis's sword was out of his reach. There was no way he could help. Then, the werewolf jerked back its head. It lunged forward, its teeth bared to strike. It bit.
Aulis waited for death. Waited a little too long. He opened his eyes, one at a time. The werewolf was still on top of him, its teeth millimeters from his face, saliva still dripping down its lips. Then it reared back again, this time raising its paws to its throat,clutching at something. Aulis sat up, throwing the werewolf off him. He saw Senka walking towards him, clutching something in her hand and pulling on it. She jerked on it again and the werewolf tipped over backwards. Now Aulis could see what was around its throat. A rope made of shadow, stretched taut from Senka pulling on the other end. She leaped the last few feet to land on its chest, and suddenly Aulis was gripped by how strange the scenario looked, this little girl straddling a seven foot beast. Then things started to happen very fast.
First, Senka stabbed the werewolf in the chest. At the same time, Aulis was grabbed from behind by another werewolf and he spun. He parried a strike with his hands, grabbing the beast's wrists. Behind the werewolf he could see Xadian still fighting his own battle, beset by three werewolves at the same time. His own werewolf launched itself at him, trying to get its teeth into his neck. He kneed it in the stomach and brought his hand straight up to meet its face as it doubled over. It reared back, clutching its snout as it spat blood. He didn't give it a chance to recover, he jumped in the air and planted both feet on its chest and pushed. It flew back several feet and landed on its back as Aulis turned over in mid air so he landed on his feet. He turned around and called up a bit of darkness from the ground. He ran through it in his head again. The darkness formed a sphere, centered in his palm. He held his arm straight out and waited, as the werewolf got to its feet. He let it glance up at him before he fired. In an instant, the darkness decided it really didn't like Aulis, and it sped away from his palm, his hand jerking back with the force of it. The werewolf dropped back to the ground, a neat hole drilled into its forehead. He looked past its body, at Xadian fighting three at the same time. He hurried to help.
Halfway to the fight, Senka screamed at him and Xadian to duck. He dropped to the ground,wondering what kind of hell she was planning. He saw something fly over his head, bowling over one of the werewolves Xadian had been fighting. He glanced over at Senka. She was still holding the shadow rope, and had just swung the werewolf it was attached to across the battlefield and into Xadian's fight. Xadian sprang to his feet and fired a quick shadow shot into the werewolf that had been downed before parrying a strike from another werewolf. He let loose with a lightning quick flurry of blows, half of which Aulis couldn't even follow with his eyes. The werewolf somehow managed to block all but the last two, which removed one of its arms and opened up a wound on its belly. Xadian spun on his heel and sliced his sword across its neck, decapitating it. Aulis picked up his sword from where he'd dropped and ran on towards the fight.
Xadian jumped ten feet straight up, flipping over the last werewolf's head and landing on his feet, his sword already flying through the air. The werewolf dropped to the ground, dead. He glanced around, looking for his next opponents. There were none left. Easily half of the dead werewolves lay on Senka's half of the battlefield, which irked him a bit. It occurred to him that if she had half a mind to, she could easily overtake him. Even gain his position. Something caught his eye by the shadow wall.
There was a paw reaching through it, clenched tight. It disappeared back through the wall, which immediately broke into pieces, revealing what looked like the entire town gathered in the square. Xadian was surprised. It was rare to find a werewolf with some power. He locked his eyes on the one who had broken his wall. It was the one he'd picked out as the leader when the battle began. Xadian raised his hand and fired a shadow shot, taking out a werewolf coming at him without taking his eyes off the leader. The werewolf cast it's eyes over the vampires, resting it's own gaze on Xadian. They started walking toward each other while their fighters engaged around them. Out of the corner of his eye Xadian saw Senka pull a particularly daring move that ended with three dead enemies all around her. Then the leader moved and he only had eyes for him.
Their swords met in a flurry of strikes and parries that most vampires wouldn't even be able to see. Xadian parried his opponents moves easily. Fast as their swords were flying, Xadian's eyes still followed them as if they were moving at a snail's pace. In all his time alive, he had met only three people, human, vampire, or otherwise, who could match his speed and skill. This werewolf wasn't one of them.
Xadian swung his sword again, this time so fast that his opponent didn't even have time to lift his sword. Xadian's sword flew through the air, disconnecting the werewolf's hand from his arm. Another lightning fast swing and the rest of the werewolf's arm came off. It was over quickly after that. It's head rolled from it's shoulders before the first drop of blood hit the ground.
He heard a whistling sound behind him and he spun on his heel, blocking the sword that had been coming towards his head. He heard footsteps behind him and he punched the werewolf away before spinning around and blocking another sword strike from the foe behind him. Another whistle and he flung his sword arm out to the side, blocking yet another strike from an unseen opponent. He was starting to get worried. There was a limit to how many enemies he could take on at a time. He dropped to his knees, driving his sword into the ground. A field of spikes burst out of the ground, radiating outward from him and impaling two of the werewolves. The last one jumped back to avoid the spikes. Xadian drew his sword out of the ground and the spikes receded. He raised his hand and dropped the last werewolf with a shadow shot. Another whistle came from behind him and he ducked, letting a knife fly over his head and into the darkness. He spun around.
Senka heard a shout and glanced over to see what trouble Xadian had gotten himself into this time. She stared so long the werewolf she'd been fighting almost took her head off. She killed him with a shadow shot and turned back to look at Xadian. He had about twenty werewolves staring him down. Senka couldn't imagine how he'd gotten himself into that mess. She started towards, but then she saw something behind him and stopped. She smiled.
Xadian swept his sword out in front of himself, blocking three attacks at the same time. He kept stepping back, blocking whatever strikes came his way. He thought fast. He wondered why they didn't just charge at him. There was no way he could take them all. Then he noticed one of the looking past his shoulder and it fell into place. He spun around, sword first. But it didn't stop the fist from flying into the side of his head, knocking him over. In an instant, the rest of the werewolves flocked around him. They picked him up, one of them holding his arms from behind while another pointed it's sword at him. It wound up. Swung.
Just then there was a loud bang and the werewolf holding Xadian's arms jerked back as its head exploded. They all glanced towards the source of the bang. It was Arex, his palm still smoking from the unbelievable force of his shadow shot. The reinforcements had arrived.
Arex cursed himself for showing off. His palm was all but dead to him, and his arm was numb from jerking back so hard. Nonetheless, he raised his hand again. He summoned up his power and sent it coursing through the ground. It exploded into the air as a wave of darkness that enveloped fifteen werwolves. When the shadow receded back into the ground, the werewolves were nowhere to be seen.
He'd been pissed off when Xadian had left him behind for phase two. But now he understood. People looked at him and saw an idiot, but he used his power in ways most people didn't even know were possible. He specialized in mass destruction. He spun in place and a crescent of shadow flew through the air, slicing through several more werewolves, even cutting off a corner of a house, sending it crashing to the ground. He'd already destroyed twenty werewolves, and the army hadn't even entered the battle yet. He drew his sword and flung himself into the fight, running to help Xadian.
Xadian dropped his sword and raised both hands. A rapid fire stream of shadow shots burst from his palms, dropping everything in front of him. He was content to let Senka appear better than him, but he drew the line at Arex. He turned and threw his arm out to the side and the shadow covering a wall behind him formed into sharp lances, flying out into the battle and skewering werewolf after werewolf. Arex grinned. He held out his own hand and a pillar of shadow erupted out of the center of the square. It broke into dozens of smaller columns that raced through the field, chasing down every werewolf in sight and enveloping them. Xadian scowled. Arex was smarter than he had thought.
There were about three werewolves left, and they weren't going quietly. They were as good as any of the lower ranking vampires. But they were vastly outnumbered, and within a minute they were dead on the ground. Xadian sighed. They had taken Krendae. But he didn't like what they had lost. Fifty vampires over the course of three attempts. And thinking about how they had killed six times as many werewolves in the last battle alone didn't make him feel better.
Not stopping to mourn the dead, he set the rest of his squad to setting up a perimeter and searching the houses in the town.
“Senka, you take the western section of the town. Take Rance, Vera, Derynn, and Grale. Arex, take everyone else and cover the western section. If they fight, kill them. I'd rather, though, that you take prisoners.” He glanced pointedly at Arex for that last comment. Arex might have done well in the last battle, but Xadian still didn't trust him.
Xadian sighed. Sunrise would be in three hours, even though the sun had set only two hours ago. This far north nights were short. He'd heard tales of scouts being sent even farther north and returning with stories of a sun that never set. He sighed again, and called over a random soldier. He ordered him to stay in the square until his squad got back, then tell them to meet him outside the town to bury Arian. Clane was going to be harder...
“Where's her head?” Senka asked.
“Couldn't find it.” Xadian said.
They were standing around a hole in the ground. Arian had been lain inside, on her back. Xadian had his hand held out. He was keeping a cylinder of darkness hovering over Arian, directly above her heart. It was the vampire custom to have a “sun” burial. The dead were buried with a hole in the ground leading down to their body, and when the sun shone down the hole, their body would be consumed by it, turning to ash.
“Should we say something?” Rance asked. He pushed his glasses back up his nose as he waited for Xadian to answer.
“Vampire girl, died brave in war, may she rest in peace.” Senka stated boldly. “That good?” She asked.
“You got the number of syllables wrong, but that sounds good.” Xadian replied. He added to it. “A holy symbol, sign of faith, she died well.” He'd gotten the number wrong too, but it sounded good. The rest of the squad, Senka excluded, looked confused though. He didn't bother explaining. If they wanted to know, they'd ask later. He picked up a shovel and they started digging.
Two freakishly long days later, they were leaving Krendae, at the head of a portion of Crale's army. Xadian had his squad set out thirty feet from the main segment, acting as a sort of scouting party. It made no difference, there was no way anyone would be able to sneak up to them. The land was completely barren, save for a few rocks here and there. They could see for miles. Which was why they weren't surprised when the werewolf hunting party came within two miles of them. Xadian had spotted them half an hour before, and alerted his team immediately.
The werewolf party was too small for them to have been looking for vampires. It was no more than a fang, about twelve fighters. More likely than not they were out hunting for food. Xadian set a new course, heading away from the hunting party. Which was why they were so close to the huge rock, when suddenly, a hundred werewolves charged out from behind it.
In an instant, the sounds of war filled the air. Swords clashed and howls and screams filled the air. In the midst of fighting Xadian cursed himself. Of course the hunting party had been a diversion. There was no way a hunting party with so few would come so close to vampire territory. While Xadian and his men had been looking at them, a much larger force had been sneaking closer behind them. Even so, it was amazing that they hadn't been noticed.
Either by sheer bad luck or by amazing planning, the werewolf force had emerged in between Xadian's squad and Crale's men. They were cut off from the main force, and were being pushed back. The werewolves charged again, forcing them back step by step. Finally, as one of Xadian's men, Derynn, went down, crushed under an onslaught of beasts, Xadian ordered his men to retreat. He, Senka, and Arex held their ground, letting the rest of the squad get away before retreating themselves. As Xadian ran for his life, watching the battle shrink away while being chased by fifty-odd werewolves, it struck him. He was on his own, with no one to help him except the twelve remaining members of his squad.
And he was behind enemy lines.
Commentary: So yeah, I have the story planned out pretty much all the way to the end. I both love and hate the way I'm going to end it. Expect the story to be about three or four more chapters long. I'm also unbelievably happy with how it's turned out so far. Halfway into the story, and it's already longer than Tournament of the Clans. Epic.