“I don’t like this. Today just doesn’t feel right.”
“There is no day better than the others to battle, Sister Phyree.”
“These are my own people we are about to fight, General.” Phyree’s use of Deedlit’s rank instead of the more familial title indicated her mood. The white-haired elvaan shifted and scoweled.
“Since our recruitment, Priestess,” Deedlit returned the curt title with almost a whimper of a scorned dog wanting to please its angry master…or mistress in this case, “our ranks have swelled. With Arcanis’s academics backing us up, we can’t lose.”
“I know…” Phyree trailed off, “it’s just that-”
“Sister! It is my job to command your army. There is a force threatening us. We must defend ourselves. The fact that WTF is ‘of our own’ is meaningless. Enemy is enemy. It is my job to destroy the enemy.”
Teh Phyree’s eyes hazed over as she looked off to the distance. Her general’s words echoed emptily. Heavy thoughts and responsibilities weighed on her shoulders. Deedlit stopped talking when her words were no longer being heard. Angrily but quietly, she turned on heel and walked down the stone corridor in the cathedral to pore over her last-minute plans before the expedition was to head out.
Far to the east, Wiryu was scheming.
“What about if we send the bulk of our army directly up the front?” His voice was tired, he had been talking for the past eight hours.
“No! That’s what Deedlit will be prepared for, are you dense?!” Mastra hit the leader of WTF on the back of his head. “Look, I held her job for twelve long years. She was my understudy and very sharp. I tried to murder her, hence, instead of being in Phyree’s place, I am here in this hole of a castle at your side right now.”
Wiryu pinched the bridge of his brownish nose. His most competent military leader was more like a whining sore loser. This was the last thing he needed, especially knowing Mastra’s past. But, dire times called for dire measures. Phyree’s former Minister of Religion turned WTF sympathizer walked in the room, sternly suggesting the renegade general leave.
“I need to get my men ready to go anyway and stir up the goblin mushpot you call an army.” He waved a small hand dismissively and clomped out.
“I don’t trust him, Wiryu. I never have even when he was with us. Mastra is more ruthless than cunning, and he was quiet cunning…probably still is.” WTF Wiryu sat in Yekan’s lap with her arms around him affectionately.
“I don’t either, but I’m no good at this stuff. I only know hit and run. If we are to stand a chance, we need him.” Wiryu lay his head back into Yekan’s chest and closed his eyes, letting the reality of the situation melt off in the warmth his vizier’s embrace. As he closed his eyes, Yekan stroked his head. A tear came to her eye. As it traveled down her cheek, she could only reflect on the portents she had received and what little Wiryu told her about the Seer’s foretelling. She knew what had to be done. But, that time hadn’t come yet. Right now, she just held on close. This trial would test everyone…and sacrifices would have to be made.
Arcanis was attended by the master of the Tehan Academy of Magicks Arcana, Teh Fuzzle. Arcanis was a loner discovered in the journeys Fuzzle was apt to go on across Teh Island. He was “a natural”. Arcanis rather liked the attention he received, especially now branded as the “the Dire”. His life was no longer a scraping limp on the highway to success. Since being discovered (as Fuzzle put it) his life became cushy. All he had to do was perform when asked and he’d get his treat. No mess, no fuss.
Being in and getting his start in a band of brigands was not one’s optimum lifestyle. But, as long as he stole, raped, or killed who he was told to, there were no problems. It wasn’t until he escaped when his gang was pinched that things grew tough. He had to rely on himself. It made him stronger and more powerful, but he didn’t care. Some other peasantaru was picked up in his place. Arcanis got lucky, and that luck led him here.
“Will you be ready for today, Arcanis,” questioned Teh Fuzzle.
“Yeah, sure, no problem-woblem. Just tell me what you want done and I’ll do it.”
“That’s the spiritaru I like to hear! I have General Deedlit’s orders here, though I took the liberty of modifying some of the tactics for our own special needs.”
“Thinky-winky she’ll like that, Headmaster?” While a rogue user, Arcanis respected Fuzzle and also recognized him as the udder from which milk and honey will flow in life. Nobody, not even an army, would ever cut him off again. Fuzzle was quite safe with him, but it was everyone else that would be in danger – friend or foe. That was the problem. Could Arcanis the Dire see the difference? Could Fuzzle explain it, or even recognize that he was being used as a means to an end? There’d be an answer later that day, for sure.
Another rogue soldier lay in wait for the battle. Her name was Linkka. She sat in a makeshift barracks in WTF territory and waited for orders. Two short, red ponytails sprouted from the back of the elvaan’s head. If it wasn’t for the twin, vicious swords she was inspecting, Linkka would be the most unassuming, adorable-looking female elvaan any man or woman could ever hope to see. The metal glistened, freshly-polished and she reflected back a smile. Today for the first time in a long time, she would be getting close and personal to Wiryu. Her blades had to look their best for him.
Kettle drums beat out the marching advance. Teh Army was traveling eastward. According to Deedlit’s plan, if they did not meet Wiryu’s forces head on in the Naeo province, Teh Army was to sweep all the villages northward until they reached Teh Old Capital citadel of O’rly where they were sure to be able to find, kill, or capture the rabble-rouser Wiryu.
Bitter late fall winds whipped around Phyree and her white horse. She drew her robes close for warmth. On her flank was the new Minister of Religion, Zephie. She was a young and talented mithra who made up for her lack of experience with talent.
“Sister Phyree,” Zephie started, “what will you have me do this day? We have never formally talked about my role in this conflict.”
“You are to maintain the morale of the soldiers, Sister Zephie. It is your job as minister and your duty to Altana to bolster her believers in trying times such as these. I am relying on you to help keep the peace and console the grieving.”
“I understand, High Priestess. There was one more th-”
General Deedlit rode up from the rear at a gallop. “High Priestess! My scouts have reported seeing a large amount of WTF several miles ahead.” The tone was urgent.
“To get Deedlit this emotional, there must be something else going on,” Phyree thought to herself. She manifested words after a pause. Deedlit’s eyes looked more as if they were seeking approval and permission than stating fact and reacting. “It begins. Start the plan at your discretion Gen-er-Sister Deedlit.” The elvaan smiled at the hume before falling back and barking harsh orders to Teh Army.
“Do you hear thaty-watey, Headmaster? It sounds like we are about to battle-wattle.”
Teh Fuzzle nodded in agreement. While responsible for the lives of his students, he didn’t take this affair as grievously as Teh One True Phyree had. This was merely another test his students had to pass…or fail.
Deedlit reached the pair of powerful tarutaru and stated, “You are to follow the battle plan I gave you starting now. The enemy is about two miles from us encamped in the village of Hybra. Begin your flanking maneuvers now.” The white-haired elvaan spurred her chocobo and raced to the main formation.
“I don’t know about that general of Phyree’s,” mused Fuzzle.
“Want me to killy-willy her, Headmaster?”
Unusually detached, Headmaster Fuzzle shook his head. “No, we had best not waste your talent. There are bigger moat carp to roast.”
Wiryu received notice that his army had been spotted as planned. He was sitting in council with Yekan and Mastra. “It seems the time has come. Let’s get this over with.”
“I’ll spring the trap,” Mastra said, hopping down from his chair. Neither of the other two knew just how literal Phyree’s former general was being. A wry smile pursed the taru’s lips.
“Come, my Wiryu, we need to be ready. We’ll have to hold off Phyree’s forces long enough for Mastra to sweep their flank.
“Right,” responded the leader of WTF. He too hopped down and began to walk outside. He didn’t notice, but two red pigtails quickly turned around a corner of a small house across the street. It was Linkka. She sighed, seeing the charismatic and passionate leader again. It quickly turned into a grimace as Yekan followed him out.
“Ever since she got involved, my love has gotten distracted and soft. He began to lose his grand vision of freeing us from that thrice-damned Phyree. I’ve got to rekindle that passion of his. I must perform well today!”
Phyree sent ahead an esteemed member of the church ahead on a chocobo capable of carrying the galka’s weight. Shadowbuni bore a white flag with a green exclamation point on it signifying he was seeking a parlay. He was to deliver terms of surrender ahead of the battle to avoid fighting at all costs. When the galka came back with an arrow in his shoulder, Deedlit gave the command to attack even without asking for permission.
The majority of the army made a forward rush into the town supported by some of Fuzzles mages. They were smart and didn’t run right to the middle but instead began a circular siege, closing in like a noose. Fuzzle’s bulk of students were then supposed to be the arrow piercing the heart and siege unmercifully from within while the defenders were trying to hold off the fighters along the rim.
Mastra was ready for this. Sure, he had an obligation to help fight off Teh Phyree in the name of WTF, but he knew what Wiryu had in store as well. He smiled as the first waves of assault crashed against the makeshift walls, houses, and barricades around the hamlet. Commander Ishido was waiting with half of Mastra’s mercenary group in the town center, hiding and prepared for the mage rush. Mastra himself decided to command the outside forces for no other reason than to be the one to kill the Tehan leader by his own might and rage. Following would be Wiryu, then the entire land would be his.
Zephie and Phyree stayed behind the assault by a good distance. They were left with a small honor guard. Headmaster Fuzzle and Arcanis the Dire had taken off to partake in their own roles. Noises of fighting, the epic struggle of life and death, floated up the grassy hill almost as background noise. Wiryu and Yekan held a similar position behind the village. All four watched with stoic interest.
General Deedlit, Commander of the Knights of Teh, was vicious. She led the charge herself and in the first five minutes of combat killed no less than seven WTF soldiers. Her chest heaved, filling with air, bloodlust, and passion for serving her mistress. Another soldier died at her blade and she assisted one of her knights with a blast of arcane energy from her hand. Through it all, her white, pure hair never saw a single spot of red blood.
It had been nearly twenty minutes. It was time for the academics to move out. Deedlit’s plan had called for them to pierce the heart of the village from the same direction Teh Army had in order to break through the weakest point. Headmaster Fuzzle had modified the plan slightly to attack what he considered to be a more favorable angle. He was going to sneak by the rear and try to drive the defenders toward the main body in a pincher move.
“Are you ready, my prodigy?”
“And willing-illing, Headmastaru.”
The student body of the Tehan Arcana Universitas began their march around the village.
Linkka had just dispatched her fifteenth Tehan as she looked up and outside the village. She saw movement along the outskirts between the trees. They were headed toward the back of the village. “Whoever planned that move is a dunce. What kind of general would send in a sneak attack with hardly any enforced orders to make cover for themselves!”
The redheaded elvaan’s tight stomach then sunk. She realized just who it was that they were after. It wasn’t an attack on the city at all! It must be an entire contingent sent to murder Wiryu! “I must tell him,” she panicked in her brain. Collecting ten other WTF soldiers she dashed for the rear command post.
“Dammit,” Deedlit was furious, “where are those mages?! They were supposed to have broken the line we made by now! Where could they be?” Slowly the noose was tightening, but it was costing more Tehans than WTFers to continue the battle. “Maybe it’s a trap? Did something happen outside of the village to the mages? Phyree might be in danger!” The thought of her sister-in-arms being in peril overwhelmed the general and she pulled back, retreating to the position of her…love.
Mastra with about fifty of his best men began to rush the forward section of the hamlet’s outskirts. He was out for blood. Deedlit and the three knights that accompanied her saw the dash from the east side of the city. They redoubled their pace to catch up and protect Phyree from the marauders.
Linkka reached Wiryu in time to warn him of the advancing force. Right as every head turned to see the direction the enemy was to come, a mass of stones pelted every WTFer in the area. The first students crested the hillock and ran wildly toward the entourage.
Yekan helped Wiryu to his feet and cured his wounds ignoring hers. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, but there is no time for that, we must fight.”
“This will be hard,” the former minister responded, “these are Fuzzle’s academics. I doubt my presence here will slow or delay them any as they aren’t loyal churchgoers.”
Linkka spat in disgust but kept her thoughts to herself. “More weakminded drivel! These puny magical rats can’t stand up to my swords and here that hume woman thinks we lost the battle!”
“Pray for us, Yekan.”
“Don’t pray, fight!” Wiryu turned to see who shouted a counter-command. His eyes were fixed on the vision of elvaan beauty in her hot-headed beauty. He instantly recognized Linkka. His heart lifted. He had a past a long time ago with this woman. He knew she was a capable fighter. His spirit became emboldened.
“FIGHT ON, WTF WARRIORS!”
The mages had reached the camp at the battle cry and the fighting began. Linkka smiled. Perverse only because she killed as she admired her hero, her love. Mages crumpled before her twin blades. She saw Wiryu watch her deadly dance, his eyes fixed on her gleaming blades. Linkka’s heart fluttered happily, spurring on more death. Passing her were two regally-barded chocobo. She noticed that more mages were running past than staying to fight. The realization hit just as the firestorm Arcanis unleashed in passing did. “It wasn’t an assassination plot, this is a bunker buster.” Everything else past that was red.
Mastra’s vanguard reached Phyree’s honor guard. Deedlit hadn’t quite made it to the location yet. Swords crossed and spells were flung. Phyree had sent Zephie ahead toward the battle to exacep danger and rally the troops in the oncoming general’s stead.
“I will kill you, Phyree! I will take extreme pleasure in crushing your body, your spirit, and your precious herd of cattle you call followers!” Mastra was furious, and for a little taru, was holding his own well against two of her honor guard. Deedlit arrived with her knights not but a moment later and stood at her Priestess’s side.
There wasn’t a combatant there who didn’t know how to swing a sword. Sparks flew from metal-on-metal contact. Phyree crushed a mercenary under her blessed hammer as Mastra disemboweled one of Deedlit’s Knights of Teh. Deedlit shouted for her loved and respected leader to quit the scene and flee so that she could live on. Arcane energies flew from the elvaan woman’s fingers. Five brigands collapsed under the magical onslaught. By this time Mastra had waded bloodily through the skirmish and reached his replacement in Teh Army.
“Back to try and finish the job?” Deedlit spat.
“No tries about it, general,” Mastra spat venom when he uttered his opponent’s title.
Phyree knew better than to get involved in that one-on-one. Mastra had almost as much ire toward Deedlit than for his true target, and he wouldn’t give up until she was still and cooling at his feet. Neither would she. Both were vicious attack dogs let loose on the other.
“Arcanis, blow through that barricade!”
“Yes, Headmastaru!” With that an isolated tornado literally did just that. Splinters from the shredded wood injured soldiers on both sides, but there was no time to lament. Arcanis did what he was told the best way he knew how. A column of mages walked almost untouched up the main street. They reached the center of town. It was just as barren as Deedlit had predicted.
“Alrightaru!” Exclaimed Fuzzle, letting some of his racial dialect show through in the excitement, “My students, you have your orders! Let us be the ones to bring this civil war to an end!” At that a shiruken sank into the headmaster’s breastbone. From all around the accumulated students, the other half of Mastra’s forces emerged, surrounding them. Commander Ishido, laughed.
“Give it up, spell-flingers. If you surrender now, we will kill you quick and without pain. Resist and you will die slowly like your poisoned leader over there.” The hume ninja pointed at the balled tarutaru. Arcanis the Dire looked up from his ailing set of coattails and frowned.
“Shamey-waney on you. You shouldn’taru have done that!” Ishido only sneered at the warning. That look on his face, or his face altogether, wouldn’t last much longer…
In the fading light, a veritable fireworks display was going off in the center of town. Everone on the outskirts both Tehan and WTFer looked. The mages had unleashed their fury inside. Mercenaries and students died alike from both blade and boom. Deedlit smiled, reinforced that her plan had worked. Mastra did the same. As if time suddenly started again, their blades crossed once more.
Zephie had made her way with a small escort to where the magical battle was raging. She saw Arcanis the Dire holding off ten of Mastra’s men with only a pointed finger. By his feet she saw Headmaster Fuzzle writhing on the ground. Her guards covered her foray to the eye of the storm. She broke through the intimidated men leaving her own behind to fight and be attacked by Arcanis. Zephie bent down and treated Teh Fuzzle using her high-potency curative magic.
“Th-thank you, Minister,” Fuzzle winced and rasped, “I would have died without your aid.”
“Shh, rest now, Brother Fuzzle, I’ll protect you. Arcanis,” she switched targets, “can you hold them off until Deedlit and the knights close in to us?”
“I surely-wurley think so, my lovely Zephie.” Arcanis turned on the charm. Even in the middle of a life and death fight he had a wild charisma. He owed her for preserving his mealticket, plus, for a mithra, she looked attractive. A wild tarutaru and a domesticated mithra. It seemed like a match made in sky.
Linkka shook her head as she came to. Just as her vision cleared, the center of town exploded with energy. The severity of the situation caught up with her and she snapped to attention. “Wiryu!” As she panned the area, she saw that Yekan was already tending to him. Jealous rage filled the elvaan woman’s eyes. She made her way to where Yekan cradled the leader of WTF.
“Is he conscious yet?”
“No, but he is alive, thank Altana.”
“How about you do that for me…in person.”
Yekan began to look up to the fierce warrior woman quizzicly before her eyes grew large. Her torso was now skewered between two gleaming swords. Blood trickled from the side of her mouth. With a gasp, the blonde hume whispered, “I only wanted…to…save…”
Yekan collapsed. Linkka picked up Wiryu’s body and carried him toward the city, disregarding all the other soldiers. Wiryu’s eyes fluttered open and he asked what happened. The warrior told her love that they were ambushed by mages and there was an explosion. Yekan and the others had died but Wiryu was saved by the one now turning him around to see how far the spell casters had penetrated the city. With no time to grieve for the loss of his vizier, Wiryu asked to be let down so he could join the fight.
Entering the city, they saw Ishido’s water-logged corpse along the street. “He must have been blown back from the center by one of the mages. We must be careful, Linkka.”
She acknowledged, smiling. It felt good to work with Wiryu again, to be under his command. Only he could ever made her claws retract and turn from a roaring tigress into a mewling kitten, to use mithran metaphors. In the middle of town the brigands were in tatters, looking only marginally better than the mages. With the addition of Linkka and Wiryu, the tables had turned in WTF’s favor.
Blood poured from gashes left by the three blades of the two newcomers. Zephie saw the menace and ordered a retreat to the front of the town. She picked up the weakened headmaster and began to trot as fast as she could. Other mages joined her and Arcanis brought up the rear. Zephie tripped over a body and Fuzzle landed on the ground.
“Go without me,” coughed Teh Fuzzle. I should have died back there, I realize that. I will buy you time. Save yourselves.”
Zephie’s face was worried but a stern hand took her paw. Arcanis led her out of the city. As they ran, magical embers floated around the headmaster. He was preparing his biggest spell. He was summoning a thunderstorm of epic proportions, one that would engulf nearly the entire village in bolts of crackling electricity. Before he could finish, Linkka put a sword through his throat. Wiryu killed a stray mage he found hiding. They nodded to each other and continued the push.
After several minutes had passed, Yekan’s body glowed brightly. Unseen forces picked her up and put her on her feet again, whole, but severely weakened. “I have to stop them, I have to get to Phyree. It was never supposed to go this far…” Wracked with coughs, she staggered forward on the path of destruction paved before her.
Deedlit had just killed a mercenary trying to attack her, which Mastra would have done if she didn’t. Nobody was to interfere with their fight. Phyree had been defending herself as best she could and took Deedlit’s command to make a break for it. She started after Zephie, trying to reach the edge of Hybra village.
Mastra swung his sword and left a gash on the battle-mage’s hip. Elvaan lips hissed but she pressed on. She couldn’t waste a single spell on curing. Instead she absorbed some of her tiny attacker’s already disadvantaged strength and began to beat him back. Mastra landed another blow, but the commander of the Knights of Teh’s armor stopped it.
“Two in a row, I’m getting tired.” She could already feel the strength she stole fade away. As the teachings of a dark knight encompassed a minority of her training, it’s spells were useful but only for short, specific stretches. She parried another strike and stopped another with her buckler.
“Will you just die, elvaan-*****?!” Mastra was furios and unrelenting. Somehow Deedlit needed a way to get her blade in edgewise. Being on the defensive at least allowed her to study Mastra’s style. All she needed was a second and she could impale him through the chest, his most open area despite first thoughts otherwise. She smiled. The white-haired woman grinned from pointed ear to pointed ear.
“Accepting your fate, wench?!”
“No, sealing yours.” It only took a second but with a shouted word, Mastra was stunned. In that split second his body was shaken, General Deedlit finished him off with her vorpal blade. Only a wheeze now came from Mastra’s lips and he collapsed back after being kicked off the end of the winner’s sword. Any other brigands there ran off. Deedlit could only catch her breath for a moment before she started to try and catch up with Phyree.
At the edge of town, through the smoke, Teh One True Phyree made out moving figures in the smoke. Her grip tightened on her blessed hammer. She saw Arcanis and Zephie emerge, running the hundred feet of clear air between them and their leader.
“Zephie! I’m glad to see you!”
“No time to talk. Fuzzle’s dead. Ambush,” she was out of breath, “Wiryu and some other elvaan woman are right behind us.”
Phyree did a mental doubletake. Elvaan? What about Yekan? She shook the cobwebs of delay and told them to leave. Deedlit was most assuredly hurt or worse behind her and Zephie needed to tend to her. Besides, Arcanis was almost spent. He looked pale, even his brown tarutaru nose. The pair ran off. Phyree shifted her attention ahead. From the smoke now stook a new couple stood. Wiryu, unmistakable. There was also some kind of escort with him, most definitely not Yekan.
Once more time stood still. The three had a staredown.
“This is it,” all three thought simultaneously, but for very different reasons.
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Stay refreshed for the up-and-coming bonus final battle!