Unbreakable: Part Five
Aethia held tight to the Battle Eyrie's reigns as Adrian surged through the air.
When Queen Fyora had first suggested appointing a true captain to head the guard by the Battle Faerie's side, Aethia had backed the plan wholeheartedly. She had a number of reasons for doing so, the first being that her own title came with duties outside the guard as well as within; she could certainly use another set of hands taking care of the knights while she trained young pets to defend themselves.
On another, more private note, she was all too glad to leave Brynn to leading the charge – it meant that she and Adrian would finally get the chance to use one of her favourite tactics against the army that dared threaten her home.
With a light flicker of magic, Aethia opened up the mental link she had long ago established with her steed.
'It seems Hirok is having a little too much fun with fear tactics,' Adrian's thoughts projected to her, clear through the rushing wind. 'Must be a Haunted Woods thing.'
'He's trying to throw us off,' Aethia replied. 'We're most likely stronger than his invaders otherwise, and he knows it. Those wraith pets might be a problem, though.'
Adrian's beak curled into a light smirk. 'In that case, I think it's time for us to return the favour.'
The Eyrie had burst through the clouds by this point, and now he levelled out into a glide. Aethia took the chance to spare a glance down below. The front lines of the two armies were intermeshed, writhing shadow intermixing with the bright shimmer of wings and the glint of armour. A number of those combatants who could were taking to the air as well, but none had reached anywhere near the Battle Faerie's altitude.
The silent command needed no further direction; at once, Adrian tucked his wings against his body and brought them into a dive.
A jade blur shot by them, but Aethia ignored it for the moment.
As the wind rushed past and the ground approached at an increasingly rapid pace, the Battle Faerie leaned into the momentum and released her grip on the reigns to reach back for her twin swords. Using the blades themselves at her speed in the midst of friends as well as enemies would have been risky at best, but she had a different plan for the Swords of Flame and Ice.
Aethia chose a simple light spell. The distracting and possible blinding effect of the flash would no doubt be potent against the unsuspecting Haunted Woodsmen, accustomed as they were to the shrouding darkness of their homeland, and she suspected that this would be especially true considering the nature of the attackers.
Adrian swooped low behind enemy lines, where most of the fighters were of the invading force. Aethia swung her swords out and released the spell just over their heads. The enchanted blades amplified and extended the reach of the light, one shining silver as it did so and the other a faint crimson.
Adrian had to pull up again before his rider could see whether her spell succeeded in disorienting the Woodsmen, and Aethia shifted her grip on the swords so that she could once more grab the reigns.
A shape flickered in the corner of her field of vision, and as Adrian began to climb through the sky she whipped around to see General Hirok on his Uni, the latter rushing to overtake the Eyrie.
'Adrian, we've got company!' Aethia's thoughts shouted as she loosed one hand's grip on the reigns and held its sword at the ready.
* * * * *
Brynn shielded her eyes when the Battle Faerie's light spell exploded overhead.
Fortunately, as the first pets to enter the fray, she and Rallon were two of only a few Faerielanders back far enough that they had to do so. The dark faerie officer had taken to the air to engage the winged defenders not long after the battle had begun, leaving Rallon to rush through enemy lines as he and Brynn worked at pushing back the wraiths.
An eerie shriek rose from the throats of the invaders as they covered their eyes and shrank back almost instinctively from the light, and Brynn took advantage of the distraction by swiftly dispatching those closest at hand. A part of her chastised the action as a futile effort – it hadn't taken her long to discover that the unnatural colouration of these pets made them nearly as vulnerable to the blade as their monstrous counterparts, but that unlike the latter, they were able to reform apparently unharmed after a few minutes or so. This would certainly explain why they wore no armour... but at least forcing these pets to stop and restructure themselves would buy her a bit of time, and perhaps sap some of their energy.
For now, any amount of borrowed time was welcome. Two things concerned Brynn, and the first had to do with the effect this writhing mess of a fighting force was having on her people. Logically, the Faerielanders knew that wraith pets were not the same things as the unholy beasts of yesteryear; that, special abilities aside, they were simply pets. Yet she could tell that the presence of such scores of them at once had unnerved many, and that the faeries especially were beginning to fall back on instinct. Some rushed, hardly thinking, headlong into battle, while others unconsciously drew back.
It wouldn't be long before this frenzied instinct cost some of them their lives.
And so Brynn pressed on, using her blade not only to block the wraiths' attacks but to scatter their shadowy fragments and thus delay their advance, and Rallon did the same with his horn and hooves. It was a temporary solution, but one that gave the magic-wielders a chance to reach them with a more effective answer.
For a time, she wondered whether another light spell of Aethia's would come in to catch her a break. None did.
A Shoyru invader dodged Rallon's horn by leaping into the air, and the Uni gave chase. Thrust abruptly away from the bulk of Hirok's forces and into a higher vantage point, Brynn used the moment to take a good look around at the rest of the battlefield.
"Lieutenant!" she suddenly shouted, pulling back on her Uni's reigns to bring him to a hover and pointing him toward the city.
The Kougra had just found the root of her second concern.
* * * * *
Corin did not enjoy spending the battle stuck behind city walls.
His position as a pre-guard squire – just inexperienced enough that Sir Rallon refused to allow him to help – was bad enough without the false calm of the city streets. Most of the citizens in their right mind, if they hadn't outright fled Faerieland, holed up in their homes as they waited and prayed for the danger to pass. Not he, though; if it came to the worst, if the invading forces breached the land's magical barrier and the city's walls, there would no longer be any reason for him to stay back. If it came to that, he wanted to be out and prepared to fight not matter the danger.
Even so, patrolling through the streets with the few guards stationed within the city just in case, and looking up at the archers and long-range magicians at the walls, did little to release his coiled energy.
Perhaps that was why he had taken Hanso up on his mad offer to break into the Hidden Tower instead.
"How exactly is this supposed to help again?" Corin's voice echoed through the stairwell as he gingerly made his way up the tower. Hanso kept pace a few steps ahead, the tools that had aided him with getting into the tower still in hand.
"Think about it, Corin," the Ixi replied without looking back. He reached the door at the top of the staircase and started fiddling with the lock. Corin was a bit surprised that the Hidden Tower didn't have more security, but he supposed that its secret location, privy only to those trusted by or in the service of the Queen, was generally security enough. That, or Hanso just really knew what he was doing.
"This place is practically an armoury," Hanso went on. "Some of the most powerful weapons in the world are kept in here." The lock clicked, and he swung the door open. "There's got to be something in here that someone like Brynn or Aethia can use! I just wish I'd thought of this earlier..."
Corin stepped across the threshold after the Ixi and shook his head. "Don't you think they already knew that? I'm sure Queen Fyora has already equipped the army with all of the most useful items they have." His gaze drifted over the room – sure enough, the shelves housing shields and weaponry were noticeably sparser than those displaying paint brushes and the like.
"Yeah, but this tower's been around longer than the current queen has." Corin turned his attention back to see Hanso ignoring the open shelves and looking, even feeling along the walls and poking into crevices. "And if there's anything I learned from hunting down faerie artefacts, it's that the stuff they made back in the day was a lot more powerful than most of what you can find now... and usually better hidden, too."
The Ixi had made his way down a good portion of the wall by this point, and Corin, not really knowing what he should be looking for, began to follow. Hanso went on, "And I know that Fyora's been around for a long enough time that she might have found something, but the thing is..." he trailed off, and the Uni leaned in expectantly just in time to hear another faint click. The trespassers turned to stare at one another, Corin with an incredulous look on his face and Hanso wearing a grin.
"...Until now, Fyora's never had a thief on her side. So, just who do you think should have the honour of using our new toy?"
* * * * *
Brynn cast another glance at the barrier rushing by.
Fortunately, the Faerielanders had prepared for this kind of assault – for the most part, at least. Brynn knew that the wraiths Hirok had presented so far couldn't have possibly made up for his entire army, and that they most likely served as a diversion as much as a frontal force. Now, it seemed, the rest of his soldiers had finally revealed themselves. Cloaked at first against prying eyes, they had managed to sneak closer to the barrier than she would have liked, but once the defensive units of the Faerieland army had discovered them and dismantled their spell, they didn't have too much trouble keeping most of the invaders back.
The problem lay in the group of Haunted Woodsmen that had looped furthest around the main battle. They had bypassed the southern border entirely before they were uncovered, and were well on their way to the eastern border with too little resistance. Because Hirok's forces had come in directly from the West, the East wall was the most lightly guarded – and now, the most vulnerable to assault.
Brynn rode Rallon at a hard gallop, the two of them leading reinforcements past the fighting at the southern border in order to catch up with these invaders before they could start hacking at the barrier.
"Hey guys, wait up!"
Brynn could have sworn her heart stopped at the sound of that voice. Rallon looked over to the left and immediately stumbled; his wings flared out in shock as he caught his balance and stepped away from the rest of the group.
"Corin! What in the name of the good Queen are you and Hanso doing out here?!"
Brynn turned and quickly motioned for the rest of the reinforcements to keep going before rounding on the new arrivals. The young brown Uni alighted on the ground a few yards from his mentor – he must have gotten someone to let them past the barrier somewhere away from the fighting, as he was without armour. The Ixi seated on his back, also lacking any sort of protection, clutched a long bundle with what seemed to be a hilt sticking out of one end.
"It was his idea," Corin muttered as Rallon's eyes bored into him. Brynn merely sat speechless, waiting on a proper explanation.
Hanso tossed the bundle to her and said in a rushed voice, "Magic sword! We didn't have time to figure out what exactly it does, but it's got to be really powerful – all I had to do was touch it and it started glowing! I thought it would give you an edge over the one you normally use."
Brynn couldn't quite believe that anyone, even Hanso, was capable of pulling off such an insane stunt just to get her a weapon upgrade, but in spite of her misgivings she untied and slid the wrappings away from the sword. It was finely crafted, with a smooth amber stone embedded in both sides of the golden-hued hilt and a shallow etching of words in a language she couldn't understand along the flat of the blade. As soon as she grasped the hilt, the amber shone brightly, its warm light swiftly spreading down the rest of the weapon.
Brynn looked back toward the Ixi and shook her head. "Hanso, this is an unknown powerful artefact. It's too dangerous for me to be using!"
Hanso returned her stare with an uncharacteristically serious one of his own. "No, it isn't," he replied firmly. "The reason we have to hunt these kinds of things down is because they're dangerous in the wrong hands. You know how to handle a sword and you won't abuse its powers; your hands are far from the wrong ones."
Brynn bit back a retort – now really wasn't the time to be pointing out the flaws in his logic, as the distant clamour reminded her. She merely shook her head again and slid the new blade into her unoccupied sheath.
"All right, you've done what you came out here to do," Rallon snapped. "Now get back behind the city walls before you two get yourselves killed!"
Corin nodded and took off, though Hanso turned to spare one last glance at his best friend and her Uni before returning his focus ahead. Brynn took a deep breath and nudged Rallon on toward the east. They'd wasted enough precious time here as it was.
To be continued...