Joshua and private Iceblood had confirmed what Al’ev already suspected. The light on the horizon was from fires that had been lit by the Disciples of Zorebane. The pair had run into a few of the enemy’s forward scouts and ended them in time to see the main body of their forces. They then rushed back to Al’ev to report the situation.
“Sergeant…” Joshua said stopping for air. “There were too many. Far more than we were lead to believe. The lit the forest aflame. The fire advances upon our position now.”
Al’ev merely nodded as he considered the terrain between their current position and the town. Grasslands and a few farms near the outskirts of Dorn. I recall several of the farmers complaining about the scarcity of rain this year. That would leave the grass very dry and very flammable…
“Quickly then, we make for Dorn. If we’re quick we may be able to give them some warning. Their larger group should slow down their pace and, if we’re lucky, we may have the time to build a firebreak around the town to deal with the wildfire.”
“They think to use the wildfire to aid their advance?”
“That’s what I think. It is likely that their leader is among them.” Al’ev pointed out the dry grass around them. “The fire will find plenty of fuel along the way. That’s the kind of tactic an Ifrit would think up. The flames make assaulting them preemptively difficult and hides the true nature of their forces. As I’ve said, he probably has the ability to guide these flames through arcane means and probably figures he can keep them under control. Come.”
“You would have us flee instead of face our foe?” Iceblood said.
“I would have us retreat so as to give ourselves a better chance of success instead of throwing our lives needlessly away.”
“I don’t have time for this. Move, soldier.” Al’ev glared.
Iceblood growled something in Orcish but complied with Al’ev’s orders.
They didn’t bother to grab much of their gear as they had to jog a long distance before they would be back in Dorn.
The trip out had taken nearly ten hours. They had managed to cut that time to six hours on their return, but every one of them was exhausted from the long forced jog.
The squadron made it into Dorn and immediately made for the garrison. The soldiers at the gates saluted Al’ev, but he barely had the energy to return the gesture. Captain Ozgral was astride a rabbyd as he surveyed the training yard. He caught sight of them as they entered the center area.
“Reldin? Yer patrol wasn’t supposed to be back for several more days. Care to explain why you’d disobey orders?”
“The enemy approaches behind waves of fire from the North, sir.”
“Ye’ve found them?”
“Yes sir, they should be here within hours. Private Drovernath, inform the captain what yourself and private Iceblood saw.”
“Yes sergeant. Beyond the flames they had set in the forest, there were several ranks of what appeared to be hired hands. Mercenaries, and bandits for the most part. Among their number were several of the cultists themselves. These all wore the black and red robes we have seen already. Our enemy walked dangerously close to the flame and didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat. Sir, even from several hundred yards away, I could feel that blaze. I can only conclude that they had some kind of magic guarding them. Also, amongst their numbers was one who stood near the back. He was muscular and tall and his hair seemed to be made of fire.”
“So the leader showed himself? Then this may be it after all.” The captain signaled to three rabbyd riders. “Gather the other patrols. It sounds like we’ll need everyone back here soon.”
They saluted and set off towards the main roads that crossed through Dorn.
“Sir, I have a suggestion. There is a great chance that the enemy hopes to use the flames to heavily damage our forces before they engage directly.” Al’ev ventured.
“I suggest clearing out some of the surrounding grassland as a firebreak. We can have some of the townsfolk assist as we won’t have much time to get this done.”
“Yes, not a bad thought. You there!” He signaled to another sergeant who had been standing near the edge of a dueling ring. “Ride into Dorn and get them ready for the attack. Have them clear out the grasslands a couple hundred yards in each direction. Hurry.”
The captain looked off at the town the garrison over looked for a few moments then realized Al’ev’s squad still stood waiting.
“Rest up. We’ll need everyone at their best. Dismissed.”
“You heard the captain, grab some shuteye.” Al’ev sent them off to the bunkhouse.
“That was aimed at you as well, Reldin.”
“I figured I would stick around and help out where I could, sir. Perhaps there is more we can do to prepare the town?”
The dwarven captain looked up at him. “I see the determination in yer eyes. Very well, let’s get to planning. Torag bless us with his wisdom.”
They made their way to the staff officer’s quarters, gathering several other officers along the way. The planning session started with a quick overview of their enemy. It was already apparent that the fire magic of the leader would be the hardest thing to deal with and predict. This made planning very difficult.
Al’ev wanted to suggest several things they could do to counter it, but he could not bring himself to say anything for fear of revealing his arcane abilities. To do so would likely get him killed. He was relieved when Nora, the cleric who had healed his leg two years previously, entered the room with three more clerics in tow.
“As I was sayin, the fire be the real threat here.”
“We agree and that be why we’ve set to clearing out the grass.”
“If I may interrupt?” Nora interjected. “I be thinking we’ve a counter to that flame.”
“Torag seeks to aid us in our defense?” Captain Ozgral asked.
Nora nodded then indicated her fellow clerics. “We can handle most of the antics of the flames between the four of us. You just need to get yer beards to their leader and finish him off. Here’s what I suggest we do.”
She set out her plan and Al’ev was amazed at the insight the cleric had in the ways of the arcane. He was very tempted to ask where she learned of arcane magic, but decided once more to keep silent as she laid out more of her plan.
Nora’s suggestions should prove effective against the evocation school of arcane magic which is where most fire spells can be found. Still, there are risks with this plan like many others. I’ll have to be sure to keep my wits about me.
“Right then, you all know what to do. Grab yer charges and get out there!” Captain Ozgrel ordered.
Everyone in the room saluted the captain then set about their tasks. Al’ev’s task was irritating given what they were about to face.
“You can’t lead yer men while half asleep and ready to fall over. I won’t allow it. Grab some rest then report to yer position.”
The next several hours were painstakingly slow and only passed a bit faster when the mail from the past two days was handed out.
“I’ll get it to him.” Al’ev said.
“Very well, sir.”
The courier handed him the piece of mail and he saw that the handwriting was Mel’s. He waited until he was alone then opened the letter.
The note was a response to the one he had sent weeks earlier.
Wow! I can’t believe how far you’ve come since we last saw each other! Those dwarves must know how to really read a person well if they are considering any of you for a promotion. It does make me wonder a bit though. What are your thoughts on what makes a good leader? I’ve read and heard many answers, and I think I know what you’ll say. But indulge me a little when you write back.
Al’ev paused for a moment to consider the question. A good leader is kindhearted and listens to those around them. Then the leader takes this information and makes a decision. Leaders aren’t callous and they aren’t selfish as their only possible noble goal is the betterment of all they lead. That’s what I think makes a good leader.
His mind drifted a bit before he continued reading her letter.
Daddy says that work on the New Arcane Library of Halar is nearing completion. I’ve heard talk from some others that the Arcane Library of Caori is already pulling aside copies of books for them to stock the new library with. Isn’t that great? Perhaps we should see it together sometime. Everything has been relatively quiet around Caori otherwise. We did have a really vicious windstorm rip through the forest in the area. Some of the oldest trees fell to the wind’s wrath. It was quite sad. But the city wasn’t damaged. I wonder if that is because of the Illundra and their magic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any part of the city damaged during a storm. Do you think that is possible?
Well, I don’t want to take up much of your time. I’m sure you are quite busy trying to earn that promotion. You’re still in my thoughts every day. Don’t you dare forget it!
Al’ev finished reading the letter and stared at the ceiling above his bed for a bit, imagining Mel’s face. “Ah Mel, what would you say if you knew what we were about to face now?” He read the letter a second time and a third. Then he slowly lost consciousness.
It was already late morning when he was woken up by Joshua. Al’ev had fallen asleep with Mel’s yellow ribbon in one hand and her letter in the other.
“Time to wake up, Sergeant. The enemy is almost upon Dorn.”
Al’ev’s eyes snapped open as he remembered what was about to happen. He swiftly stood up and was forced to steady himself as he had gotten to his feet to quickly.
“She wrote back again, huh?” Joshua asked looking down at the letter.
“What, you think she’d forget about a gorgeous guy like me?” Al’ev joked as his steadied himself.
“The only reason she remembers you is because of the shining beacon of gorgeousness that is me.” Joshua chuckled.
“Right…is that how you describe that thing on attached to your neck?” Al’ev returned, trying to relieve some of the anxiousness that was creeping into his mind. “Okay, guess we had better get out there.”
Al’ev gathered his squad and made for Dorn. On their way down the hill from the garrison, they saw the line of fire fizzling out at the edge of a no-man’s-land were all the grass had already been burned away by backfires the townsfolk had set hours before. The sky had grown dark from the smoke that continued to filter into the early afternoon air.
Al’ev looked over the enemy forces as they continued marching into the town and saw that the enemy had brought a pair of catapults along. Even as he wondered where they would have found a siege device like that, he saw one of them fire what turned out to be a barrel that had been lit on fire. The barrel collided with one of the stone buildings near the center of the town and what appeared to be liquid fire spread out everywhere, sticking to the stone and everything else in the immediate area.
“Great…guess we know what they needed the barrels for. Ozgrel will have to take those catapults down fast or we could be in trouble.” Joshua commented as they finished their short march into the town.
Al’ev’s group was tasked with waiting near the center of the town and were to only leave if they had to engage the enemy directly or were asked to reinforce a forward position.
“I’ll need someone who can go where they be needed. That’s you.” Captain Ozgral had said, poking Al’ev’s chest with a finger.
“Why do we sit behind and wait like cowards?” Iceblood said after a few minutes.
“We are doing as we are ordered, Iceblood.” Nelya answered from behind Al’ev while he stood with his backs to them all, listening as war cries rang out along the Northern edge of Dorn.
The sound of clashing metal on metal drowned out the cries shortly after and Al’ev as well as the rest of the soldiers waiting in the town grew increasingly agitated with each scream that rang out into the sky. The battle had started.
“Sergeant. Order us into combat!” Iceblood yelled at Al’ev’s back.
“That’s now how the system works, private.”
“Fine then. Sit and wait like cowards behind your allies as they die before you. I’ll have none of it.” Al’ev watched as Iceblood broke ranks and had just started to stalk off when a messenger approached Al’ev from the direction of the front. He handed Al’ev a coded message and he got to work deciphering it.
“We’ve been ordered to reinforce the right flank. Let’s move.” Al’ev ordered.
“Finally, some action!” Dagarn shouted causing Iceblood and Ventin to return to the squad.
“Remember, stick together and remember what you’ve learned. These guys were using magic blades before, so don’t count on your armor to stop blows. Most of those we face should be nothing more than mercenaries and bandits…but they still may have augmented armor and weapons as well. And watch out for any enemies wearing robes. They’ll likely have magic to call upon.” Al’ev instructed as they rushed through the empty streets of Dorn."
They made it to the Northeastern side of Dorn and Al’ev heard Joshua whisper something under his breath.
Nelya was a bit more direct. “By the gods…”
It was an appropriate response Al’ev decided. He made a quick prayer to Cayden Cailean and another to the goddess Sarenrae asking them to guide his hand through the conflict he was about to enter. He was beginning to think he would need all the help he could get as he looked before them and saw a skirmish far more massive than he had expected to find.
The two forces had clashed in a mighty confrontation. The entire Northern side of Dorn was protected by every soldier from the garrison as well as what few they had managed to pull in from neighboring towns. Rabbyds tore into flesh as their riders struck out at enemies with poleaxes. Infantry men struck out with hand axes and several archers with crossbows. Here and there, Al’ev saw clerics weaving their divine magic to aid fellow soldiers.
The dwarven townsfolk themselves were not absent from this confrontation as they were no strangers to conflict. Stubborn, hardy, and not quick to give up by nature, they had elected to join their protectors in the defense line as well. Most wore civilian outfitting, and brandished hatchets, pitchforks and several other weapons of various quality.
All told, Al’ev estimated that allied forces should have numbered close to four hundred. But the enemy force appeared to be equally as large and even as Al’ev scanned the battlefield, looking for where his group of six would be best suited, he saw that the dwarves were having a tough time holding the line against the mercenaries and bandits.
Fire flared out from the hands of several black and red robed figures also catching Al’ev’s eye. He looked at them closer and noted that they carried no notable weapons of their own.
Casters? Where is the cleric assigned to this flank? Nora said her clerics would limit their abilities…
“Sir, orders?” Joshua said from behind him.
Al’ev was still searching for any sign of a cleric near this side of the line. The only ones he had seen thus far were further west.
Come on…I know you’re in there somewhere. This line would have been fried if you weren’t still alive….where…
Then he thought he caught a glimpse of armor decorated with the symbols of Torag behind several robed enemies fairly deep into the enemy’s advancing line. Al’ev pointed it out. “We must get that cleric out of there. Without the cleric, this line will be ash. Break through their ranks, give it your all.” He drew his blade “Charge!”
Al’ev, Joshua, Nelya, Dagarn, Iceblood and Ventin rushed into the fray, catching several enemies off guard with their sudden charge. Those they smashed into first appeared to react very slowly.
Al’ev hazarded a guess that that was because they had been forced to march a long ways then engage in combat with well rested forces. He slammed into the first enemy who stepped into his way, knocking the cloaked man over. He saw the figure was unarmed and brought his sword to meet the caster’s chest just as he finished the first gestures of an evocation spell. Life vanished in an instant and Al’ev moved on plunging deeper into the fray, using his sword to both defend and attack as he went.
He was vaguely aware of his allies carving a bloody swath through their enemies on either side of him, but there were simply too many enemies directly around him for Al’ev to pay them much attention.
Can’t worry about them now. Have to stay focused on moving.
It was rough going, but they were making steady progress and as Al’ev cut down an axe wielder who’s weapon was ignited with magic, he saw several dwarves who were not part of his unit begin filling in the gap his forces had formed. The soldiers and townsfolk were rallying behind him and he knew then that he had made the right tactical choice. They were taking the right flank, but that wasn’t his only goal.
Then he finally reached the cleric he had seen prior to the charge. Al’ev’s squad formed a perimeter around the cleric and fought off enemy attacks while he checked on her. When she looked up into his face from where she knelt on the ground, he recognized it was the cleric, Nora. She seemed mostly uninjured, but he could feel her magic was weakening,
“Where’ve ye been, Reldin! These bastards have been hounding my sanctuary spell for the past ten minutes.”
“Yeah, sorry about that Nora. Got a bit hung up chopping our way through the line. How about we get you out of here?”
“Aye, that sounds like a plan I could follow.”
“Drovernath, Vanvir. We’re getting out of here! Iceblood, Vinten, Dragnar, let’s go!”
Al’ev helped Nora to her feet then started making his way back towards Dorn. After several skirmishes, and a few minor injuries, Al’ev and Nora made it to an open area just outside one of the town’s outermost buildings. He rested for a moment as he watched the rest of his squad catch up. Joshua and Nelya emerged from the chaos followed closely by Dagarn who cut down a robed man as he backed through the line. But when Al’ev didn’t see the half-orc or the Halfling emerge from behind the lines, he knew there was a problem.
“Where are Iceblood and Ventin?”
“We tried to tell you but the shouting was too loud. They are set on avenging Horinth…so they ignored your orders and are probably still in there.”
“Of all the stubborn…” Al’ev looked back at the line. The right flank was doing well after their charge, but the left had suffered as the enemy shifted its focus there. Even as Al’ev watched, one of the town’s outermost buildings was overrun. He looked back to the line, then again at the town and knew he had to make a decision.
“Dagarn, I need you to come with me. We’re going to get those idiots out of there. Maybe you’ll be able to talk some sense into them. Nelya, Joshua, take Nora and see if you can help out in the town. I’ll send what forces I can your way to help out. Be careful. It looks like the left flank is crumbling. Don’t do anything that would be too risky. Nora, watch over them please.”
“Aye, that I will. Mind yer back Reldin.” The holy woman replied.
Al’ev saluted then charged back into the lines with Dagarn close on his heels. They managed to cut most of their way through before a massive fireball exploded in the middle of the center flank, throwing combatants on both sides through the air.
What was that…Al’ev thought as his ears continued to ring.
He looked over and saw several enemies and allies had landed close by. Al’ev and Dagarn were able to vanquish a large number of foes before they could lift themselves to their feet. Al’ev took a moment to pull a few soldiers up then ordered them to gather as many men as they could and make for the center of the town. Then he and Dagarn continued to where they had seen Iceblood and Ventin. But the halfling and half-orc were much deeper into the enemy lines than when they had last seen them and were currently charging a line of robed enemies who appeared to be guarding one of the two siege weapons.
“The fools think to take on all of them on their own. They’re crazy!” Al’ev observed.
“Aye. But we can’t be leaving them.”
“No, nor would I…come on. We can at least try to get them out of there.”
Al’ev and Dagarn sprinted the open distance between them and their allies. They were halfway to Iceblood and Ventin when Al’ev saw Ventin take a axe to the back of his hand, forcing him to drop his weapon and scramble away from a follow up blow. The halfling was in trouble and the frantic movements he made were more than enough to show this.
If only I had forced them to stay back. Damn it! What kind of a leader lets his charges take that kind of risk? If only I had noticed them missing sooner.
About thirty feet from Iceblood they finally noticed something they hadn’t seen as they approached. The half-orc had the hilt of a blade stuck in his middle. The blood flowing from the wound indicated he wouldn’t survive. Al’ev knew then that he had already lost his first squad member. It was inevitable.
The half-orc managed to cut down another enemy but fell to a knee as his mighty two-handed axe fell to the ground before him.. Al’ev covered the rest of the distance between them only seconds too slow. Another robed enemy who had been fighting let his own blade drop against Iceblood’s guard easily battering aside his severely weakened defense.
The half-orc was gone a moment later. Al’ev and Dagarn managed to fend off the remaining assaults aimed at private Vinten, but it was too late for Iceblood. Their foolishness had cost the half-orc his life and Ventin was lucky to still have his. There were still several enemies in the area and Al’ev decided now was not the time to stick around and wait for them to fall upon the three of them.
“I’ll grab Iceblood’s body. We have to get back into the town.”
“What about the siege weapon?”
Al’ev pointed to a few barrels of lantern oil. “That looks like the best way to get rid of it.” While Dagarn was busy helping Ventin , Al’ev took a quick glance around, then, as he walked away from the large weapon, he snapped his fingers in a gesture he had not done in several years. The spark leapt readily from his hand and landed on the top of one of the wooden barrels that was full with lantern fluid. He picked up Iceblood’s body then he, Dagarn and Ventin made a dash for the town. They managed to fight their way through the remaining few remaining combatants again, though not many had actually stood back up after the last barrel had crashed into both lines on their way in. When they arrived in the town, Al’ev heard Nora’s voice suddenly jump into his mind.
There ye are. We’re on the top of a building just outside the middle of Dorn. We think Zorebane himself is there. Captain Ozgral and several men are struggling against thirty or so disciples. The men ye’ve sent are few in number and are waiting for you to get here before making their move.
We’re on our way. He thought back then indicated to Dagarn and Ventin that they needed to head towards the middle of the town.
It is him. He is an Ifrit. Ugly blasphemer that he is. The air seems to shimmer around him as though it were the middle of a hot summer day. Nora’s voice came again.
Aye. Private Drovernath and Private Vanvir think they can take him down. He doesn’t have any guards around him. They must be the ones pushing Ozgrel’s men back towards the garrison. All we need now is a distraction.
Okay, we’ll handle that, but be ready. I have no desire to be cooked alive.
Al’ev, Ventin, and Dagarn ran through the town and stopped just out of sight of the its center as they found a few men who had survived the explosion in the center line. After catching their attention, he signaled for them to hold their position so he could figure out how best to make them useful.
Al’ev peered around the edge of a building and finally saw his enemy. The man’s muscles were borderline outrageous, even on his six and a half foot form. His hair looked as though it were made of flame and the air wavered about him. Al’ev noted that it had grown noticeably hotter as they had gotten closer, likely a result of several spells the Ifrit had cast upon himself. The slight wind carried some of Zorebane’s murmurings and Al’ev recognized many were words of power.
He’s casting some sort of spell. We have to act quickly.
Al’ev looked around for anything that he could use to get Zorebane’s attention and saw that several of the soldiers he had ordered into the center of the town held crossbows. He also saw a bow that lay next to its deceased owner near a building across from him. The owner appeared to be no older than Al’ev, but he had clearly been a civilian. Beside the fallen dwarf lay a bow that had already been strung and was intact. Several arrows were also present in a quiver upon his back and Al’ev rushed over to pick up both the bow and the quiver.
Though he had preferred the use of the blade to any other weapon, the Grand Army of Doul required its soldiers to know how to use many different armaments, bows included.
Returning to his previous position he glanced around the town square and noted that it should really be called a town circle as the buildings were arranged in a circle around the center area where Zorebane now was. He looked over to the building where three figures lay prone on the roof and got Nora’s attention.
I need you to instruct the men with crossbows to spread out around the town square. When they see my arrow fly at Zorebane, they are to let their own bolts fly as well. I hope that this will be enough to gather his attention. I’ll goad him into attacking us and while he is distracted, you three can do what you need.
Nora laid absolutely still on top of the building for a few moments then exchanged words with Nelya and Joshua. His friends both nodded then she finally returned to Al’ev’s mind. We understand. Torag be with you. Then she began speaking into the minds of the soldiers who held the crossbows. They all looked startled at first, but then slowly began filtering about the townsquare, careful to remain hidden as they went.
Al’ev waited a few moments, then prepared to take a shot. “Be ready you two. We may have to move very quickly if he becomes too focused on us.” He tracked the Ifrit’s movements and, when he thought the man was about to step a bit more to the left as part of casting his spell, Al’ev let the arrow fly.
Zorebane must have heard it coming because just as the arrow was reaching its target a wall of flame shot up from the ground between them. The fire was so intense Al’ev was forced back behind the stone building. When the sudden heat dissipated, he again peered around the stone building and saw the Ifrit staring right at him, several crossbow bolts sticking out of him at odd angles.
Didn’t expect an attack from all sides, did you. Al’ev immediately prepared to take another shot, but the wooden bow burst into flames as he aimed his shot, forcing him to drop the smoking weapon. He then ducked back behind the building and two rays of fiery light shot past the stone wall.
“By Cailean’s ale, what was that?!” Dagarn said.
“You don’t want to know. Looks like we got his attention though.” Al’ev replied.
Excellent. He’s making his way towards your position. He’ll pass by us in a few seconds. You only need to get his attention for a moment longer.
“Private Ventin, if this doesn’t go well, I’ll need you to retreat and get some reinforcements.” He turned to speak to Ventin, but realized that the halfling was gone. Al’ev cursed then looked back around the edge of the building and saw private Ventin sneaking up to the Ifrit from the side. Zorebane didn’t appear to have noticed yet.
Nora, quick. Have the men fire another volley! We need to keep Zorebane distracted or Ventin is toast.
They be reloading their weapons still!
“Damn it. Dagarn, stay out of sight. I need to keep Zorebane’s attention.”
“What’re ya talking about? I be going too.”
Al’ev sighed. “You’re not going to back down on this even if I make it an order, are you?” The dwarf shook his head then readied his twin hand axes. “Okay, stay sharp.”
He took a deep breath then emerged from his cover.
Zorebane was indeed slowly walking towards him, but he was still several hundred feet from where Al’ev was. Dagarn removed himself from cover then started walking along side Al’ev.
The half-elven sergeant of the Grand Army drew his longsword then stopped one hundred feet from his adversary.
“Surrender, Zorebane.” He said in Ignan as sweat started to form upon his exposed skin.
The Ifrit seemed to chuckle a little then began to walk forward again. About five long strides into his advance, Al’ev heard him say a few more words of power and he began to dive to the side as he knew what was about to head their way.
A 5 foot diameter ball of fire coalesced before the man and then sprung forward towards Dagarn and Al’ev as both soldiers leapt away from its path. They both got out of the way as the rolling inferno almost ran them over, their armor super heated by the intense flame and causing mild burns where it touched skin.
Al’ev got back to his feet as he saw that the Ifrit gesturing to make the ball come back at them again and was forced to dive again. As he was lifting himself from the ground this time, he heard Ventin yell out somewhere behind Zorebane. He looked up in time to see Zorebane reacting to a new threat. The halfling had leapt from the top of a nearby pile of crates and had his daggers ready to strike. But before he closed the entire distance, he was thrown back by an explosion that emanated from Zorebane himself.
It was a powerful spell, and one Al’ev knew was well beyond even his own means. It was unlikely that the private still lived.
Al’ev’s eyes filled with anger as he got to his feet again and saw that Dagarn had gotten to his. The Ifrit had returned his gaze to the two of them and had begun gesturing to the ball of fire he had conjured. It started rolling back towards them again.
“Dagarn, follow my lead!”
He charged the Ifrit, hearing Dagarn let out a war cry as they went. The ball of fire was moving faster than they could run and it wasn’t long before the pair had to dive to the side for the third time.
Dang it Nora. What’s taking so long? He thought as he got to his feet.
I was attempting to check on Private Ventin. He didn’t make it Reldin.
Al’ev cursed again, this time in draconic.
Charge him one more time, sergeant and we’ll end this.
You had better. I don’t want to lose one more soldier.
Al’ev and Dagarn rushed out from behind the building and saw the ball of fire coming at them again. But this time they didn’t stop. They were already very close to the Ifrit. But they were forced to a stop about twenty feet away when a cone of fire issued forth from the man’s mouth.
They were trapped between a ball of fire and a wall of flame. With only stone buildings on either side their options had begun to run out. Then the cone of fire started creeping nearer causing Al’ev and Dagarn to instinctively back up.
“NOW!” Joshua shouted from one of the buildings off to their right. Al’ev watched Nora, Joshua and Nelya jump from the roof straight into where he estimated the Ifrit to stand.
He gasped as a column of brilliant flame shot up. He then found it hard to breath and realized that the air in the area was all being sucked up by the column of flame. As if to confirm his suspicion, the advancing cone of fire in front of him and the rolling inferno behind him, vanished from a lack of oxygen. He could not see his friends or the dwarven cleric who were hidden by the swirling flame that still lay before him.
After what seemed like excruciatingly long minutes, the column vanished, leaving only a large scorched mark on the ground and a mass of smoke behind. The smoke cleared slowly and to Al’ev’s shock, Nora and both of his friends stood close to each other over the scorched remains of Zorebane.
“What happened! How did you survive that fire?!”
“I’m not as worthless as ye think, my dear half-elven sergeant. When I was born, the gods blessed me with the ability to cancel most forms of magic. Torag smiled upon us when he sent you to me this day.”
Al’ev’s mouth shot open. Canceling magic wasn’t unheard of, but the ability to extend that protection to others was something else. He could only recall a handful of individuals who had been known to possess the ability in all of his readings.
“Why sergeant. Never thought I’d see you look so surprised. Perhaps we should commission an artisan to copy this image?” Nelya teased.
Al’ev quickly gathered himself. “Alright, alright. That’ll be enough of that, private. Besides, I didn’t see you watch your friends go up in flames then emerge without a singe. I suppose it’s a good thing you did though.”
“I would have been very angry had you just died. I’ve already lost two men during this hellish battle.” He said with glare but a smile broke through his face betraying how happy he was that they had beaten Zorebane.
“Come on, we’ve got to mop up the rest of these disciples before they do any more damage. Don’t want them running off and restarting their little cult, do we?” Nora suggested.
As they were leaving to assist the other forces in neutralizing the threat, Al’ev took another look at the ground where Zorebane’s ashes were slowly blowing away into the wind. Something caught his eye in the dirt and he went to take a closer look.
A teleportation rune?
Al’ev stood back up in deep thought after smudging out the rune. He had thought that killing the leader had been too easy, and now he suspected that he had been playing with everyone all along. Even his own Disciples were likely just toys to throw away. He continued to think about this as they cleared out the rest of the town.
When it was finally over, Al’ev surveyed the area from the hilltop the garrison sat upon. Dead dwarves, bandits, mercenaries and disciples everywhere. He saw more scorched earth than he did untouched earth and several buildings appeared to have been lost during the fight.
The Grand Army of Doul had won the battle, true, but the price had been high. The garrison had lost nearly half of the men stationed there and the townsfolk hadn’t faired much better. Al’ev had lost two men under his command and though it was due to no fault of his own, he felt that a better leader would have been able to save them.
And then there was the presence of the teleportation rune. The thought of this caused Al’ev to suspect that the entire battle, all the lives lost on both sides, had all been for nothing.
Zorebane may have escaped…