Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Duendewood: Reclaiming Annon, Part Two

"You know where they are?" asked Amaranth, as she tightened a strap on her gleaming silver armor. 

Darvinin nodded. He was neither a great wizard nor a great warrior, but he was skilled in both arts -- and he was resourceful. "I scried for them just a few minutes back. I can take us there directly."

Amaranth pulled on a matching silver helmet, shaped to resemble a wolf's head. She picked up a shield and hung it in the air; it circled her, once and then again. She drew a two-handed scimitar, twin to the one she'd crafted for Ruin, but this one decorated with hunting cats rather than wolves. "Do it," she told him. 

They stepped out into the midst of a battle, and from the look of things it wasn't going well. Sherra was dancing from shadow to shadow, but as he watched the apparent captain called to his mage-assign for more light. Sam, her lover, was swinging a greatsword around in massive, cleaving arcs, cutting down anyone who came near her; a pair of saber-toothed tigers were guarding her flanks, darting in and out to take anyone who tried to get behind her. An unfamiliar True Elf -- Leander? --had a shortsword in each hand, and was causing almost as much chaos as Sherra was. 

For the moment they were holding, but the human troops were streaming out around them and it was only a matter of moments before they were surrounded and overwhelmed. "Shit!" cried Darvinin, and dropped a Fireball on the captain and his mage-assign. Then he drew his double-scimitar and waded in. 

Amaranth was already ahead of him, cutting through the human troops. In addition to the floating shield that helped protect her, she'd drawn a scimitar and released it; it danced through the air around her, cutting at anyone who came near while she used her own blade to cut down anyone who survived. 

"Sherra! Sam! To me!" Darvinin's shout carried, and elvish ears were sensitive enough to sort it from the sounds of battle and respond. Sam turned and strode forward, slamming her attackers aside with supernatural strength; her draconic heritage was even more obvious now. The two sabertooths circled behind her, keeping human soldiers at bay. Leander turned and circled in, though he'd been trying to get to the captain and had further to go. 

Sherra slipped up from a shadow behind the mage-assign, and cut his throat as he was lifting a hand to call magical light into the small clearing. Darvinin watched in horror as the captain turned, scowled, and planted his longsword in her guts, twisting it around for good measure. The human troopers surrounded them completely now, and for all that they were a mixed bag of fighting men there were just too many of them. Even the unskilled troopers were dangerous. 

Then, unexpectedly, the circle broke. The human soldiers near the edge of the clearing fell back, pressed hard by... a man and a woman, both fighting with steady determination. Dad? 

Sherra staggered back, clutching at the wound in her side, and Tamisira Eldrish vanished from beside Hirethal Moonshadow and appeared behind Sherra, catching her as she fell. The human captain stepped forward, attacking, but even with one arm tied up in holding Sherra, Tamisira parried him easily. She fights like Ruin, Darvinin realized. Not exactly, but... She fights like Ruin. Distantly, he heard Sam call, "Mom?"

A moment later she'd vanished again and appeared beside him, still clutching Sherra. Sam and the tigers reached her a moment later, and Hirethal and Leander a moment after that. They were cut off, thoroughly bloodied, and completely surrounded... but they still had options. "How many can you move?" Darvinin asked Tamisira.


"Take them! I'll get the rest." A spear slipped past his guard and stabbed into his thigh, but the blow was more luck than skill; it didn't do too much damage. 

Tamisira disappeared again, taking Hirethal, Sam, Leander, and Sherra with her. If Ruin was any basis for comparison, they wouldn't have gone all that far, so she had probably moved them as far away as she could...

A faint streak came from one of the trees, and the captain gasped at the arrow in his chest. 

Then he collapsed, dead where stood.

Not all of the human troops noticed, but many did. Darvinin fell back, parrying the ones who hadn't. 

One of the sabertooths cried out. A glancing blow only, but they were running out of time, and Darvinin would be hard-pressed to get them away with this many people attacking him. 

Then a ball of fire tore through the human troops, flinging bodies everywhere. "Go!" yelled a woman's voice -- one he recognized, though he barely believed it. "I'll cover as long as I can!" 

"Follow us!" Darvinin yelled. Mistra was more than smart enough to figure out which direction he'd choose. He took that moment to cast the spell, and carried himself,  Amaranth, and the two tigers to where he expected that Taminansa had gone. 

They weren't there, but they were only a dozen or so yards away. He waved and started walking towards them, and then a voice called out: "Darvinin?" 

"Over here!" he called back, and watching in awe as Shalmistra came sprinting out of the trees towards him. She was no longer rounded with pregnancy; there was child in a sort of pack on her back, where it couldn't interfere with her archery. 

"We should move again," said Tamisira, as everybody gathered together. "They might have heard that, even at this distance." Behind her, Sam was kneeling over Sherra, one hand over her wound as she healed her.

Shalmistra shook her head. "It won't matter," she said. "The southernmost clan sent help."

"Southernmost clan?" asked Darvinin, puzzled. He'd never heard of such a thing.

"It was your mother's idea. There's a clan of elves who live down in the far southeast, migrating around the coasts at the edges of the Forgotten Desert. We know of them because they send some of their youth to serve at Fort Dedo. They're loyal to Sol Povos, and when I finally found them I learned that they were loyal to Tavros Fontaine as well. Apparently one of them, some sort of champion, has been staying at the temple of Amun; I don't know the details. But they sent a dozen of their hunters back with me, and their hunters are..." She shook her head. "...impressive."

In the distance, somebody screamed. Darvinin didn't think it was one of these hunters. "Do they know there's an entire garrison of human troops stranded in Duendewood and now hunting for us?"

Mistra nodded. "We should withdraw," she said, "but not with magic. Keep ahead of them on foot, and give the clan time to do their work."

Darvinin glanced at Tamisira, and then at his father. Both nodded.

"I believe her," said Tamisira Eldrish.

"The True King's supporters are coming too," Darvinin said. "They'll position themselves to cut the human troop off from Annon. If we can keep them strung out..." 

Hirethal nodded to his son. "We can pick them apart like a poorly woven sock."

Mistra turned to look at Darvinin. "You'll need to be a mage for this," she said. "Keep your distance and use spells."

Darvinin smiled. "I can do that." He was not the warrior his brother was, not the mage that his mother had been; but he was... second-best at both, and that was nothing to dismiss. He'd always known his limits. He could do this.

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