Unbreakable: Part Six
High up in the clouds above Glory Hollow, General Hirok was locked in a Doglefoxfight with the Battle Faerie.
This isn't getting us anywhere! the Draik thought with a snarl as Aethia's Eyrie made another pass at him. His own Uni swerved out of the way, and Hirok spat a stream of fire at his opponents for good measure.
This had been going on since about the start of the battle; between the faerie's magic and his fire, the military leaders had managed to keep one another off of themselves and their steeds, leaving them at an impasse.
They were stalling for time, or perhaps just trying to keep one another from joining back in on the battle down below. Hirok was okay with that – his officers knew what to do, and if in the process of blocking the Battle Faerie's interference he managed to actually take her and her Eyrie down, then all the better.
The Battle Eyrie lunged, and before Hirok could strike at him he rolled to the side and grabbed onto the Uni's armour. Wings beat furiously as the steeds attempted to throw one another off balance, and Hirok held on tight and spared a quick glance at Aethia. Perhaps he could –
The Battle Faerie pounced, knocking him off his steed so that both went spinning through the air. Her own wings flared out and brought them to a hover, and she kept one vice-like grip on his sword arm and used the other to clamp his snout shut and quench his flame.
"Give me one good reason not to tear your wings off and throw you out of the sky," she hissed.
Hirok's eyes narrowed. He couldn't very well give her a verbal answer at the moment, but that didn't mean he lacked any way to respond. Throw you out of the sky... Now that's an idea.
With a beat of his own wings to propel him, the Draik twisted around and grasped one of hers at the base. Its steady hum ceased, and in a moment the combatants were once again spiralling downward.
Hirok took advantage of the disruption and wrenched his snout from Aethia's grasp.
"I am taking back Glory Hollow, and nothing will stand in my way!" he growled before twisting his grip on her wing and then kicking her forcefully away. Whether he had succeeded in injuring or otherwise disorienting the faerie out of the ability to right herself, he did not care to check; instead, he re-angled himself into a controlled dive in the opposite direction and peered out over the battlefield.
A particular glint of armour caught his attention, and he looked over to see a lone figure – no, a lone rider on Uniback – headed toward the eastern borderland. Did that flash of lavender belong to the cape of a Faerieland officer?
General Hirok's eyes narrowed again, and he adjusted the angle of his dive. This should be interesting...
* * * * *
Brynn's gaze was focused on the pocket of fighting just up ahead.
Perhaps a little too focused, as she didn't notice the attacker coming up on her side until a harsh blow threw her off of her Uni.
Brynn sucked in a breath and sprang to her feet as Rallon ground to a halt, but when they looked around they saw nobody in the immediate area but one another.
Another cloaked soldier, she considered silently, keeping her stance taut and wary and the sword in her hand at the ready.
A light cackle echoed around her, and with a flourish Hirok's dark faerie appeared.
"What's wrong, Captain?" the faerie crooned. "Don't remember me?"
Brynn regarded her with a careful eye. "Of course I remember you."
The faerie cocked her head to the side for a moment, and then shook it. "No... No, I think you're missing something." With a wicked grin, she stepped forward – and then she was a he, a sharp-featured Halloween Kougra.
General Hirok's "messenger."
Brynn growled. "I'm done playing your games," she spat. "Now let me get back to the matter at hand, or else stay here and fight me properly."
The shapeshifter drew a knife with one hand and set the other aglow in a sickly violet. "I choose the latter."
Rallon came up beside his rider, and she addressed him without taking her eyes off of the shapeshifter. "Go on to the eastern border. I'll take care of this one and then meet you there."
The Uni lowered his horn. "Sorry Captain, but as your partner I'm going to have to decline," he muttered back. "Besides, you saw how the faeries are reacting to those wraith pets – Hirok's going for our morale, and he's doing a good job at it. If I let our Wraith-slayer get taken down now, we're going to be in trouble."
Brynn could do little to argue with that. Before she or anyone else could make a move, however, a pillar of fire erupted between her and Rallon. The Uni whinnied and reared, scrambling back from the flames before they could reach him, and she leaped away and rolled, the evasive action forcing her closer to the Kougra-faced magician.
With a heavy thud, General Hirok landed on her side of the flaming wall. His sword out and ready, he fixed his gaze on Brynn.
"I've taken care of your Battle Faerie," he growled. "Now it's your turn."
Brynn shifted into a defensive stance without response – it wouldn't do her any good to worry about what he meant by "taking care" of Aethia. From the corner of her eye, she saw Rallon spread his wings and leap over the dying flames, only to crash into a barrier that shimmered into life at the shapeshifter's call.
The shapeshifter smiled and said, "It's you and us now, Captain."
At that another spell barrelled toward her. She threw her cape up just in time, and its enchanted weave blocked the spell from doing any worse than pushing her back a little. In the next instant, she had to block a blow from Hirok's sword with her own. She threw the Draik off of her, and then looked around wildly to keep track of her other opponent.
"Captain!" Rallon shouted. "Above you!"
Brynn rolled to the side only a moment before the shapeshifter came crashing down, and the winged Kougra's knife lodged into the ground right where she had been standing in the moment before. Hirok struck again then, a burst of firebreath accompanying the swing of his sword. She managed to dodge the flames, but could not account for the blade in time – it cut deep into her right arm, rendering it useless for the fight. She had never been so thankful for left-handedness.
She could not get an attack in – not against these two opponents with wings and powers to add to their skill. One of the shapeshifter's blasts hit her full force, and then another, and the pain of her injured arm seared and her breath left her and her head swam as she staggered back.
It was useless. She had failed Faerieland.
Rallon's half-panicked cry slashed through her muddled thoughts, and she sprang away half-instinctively as Hirok rushed forward with a wide sweep of his sword.
No! Her mind hissed through a surge of adrenaline. You are not going to die today!
Brynn kept a wary eye on her opponents and backed up, careful not to corner herself at the edge of the magician's barrier or allow them to encircle her. They hung back for a moment, waiting for the right time to strike, but she knew that moment wouldn't last long. She was still outnumbered and disadvantaged, especially now with the gash in her arm, and she needed a plan. She briefly considered making use of a blessing – even a simple Heal would help somewhat – but quickly disregarded the notion as it would take more time and focus than she had right now.
Making use of an enchantment wasn't a bad idea, though... and as Brynn became aware of the weight of the second sword at her back, another thought came to her as well.
All right, Hirok. You want me to play your game? Fine, I'll play.
A small smile found its way to the Kougra's face as she said in a low voice, "I think I've figured out why you had to declare yourself General, Hirok."
The Draik snorted and stepped forward. "That was simply because my fool of a nation couldn't even put together a fighting force without my direction."
Brynn shook her head a little, keeping her ground. "No. It's because your nation would have known better than to appoint you the position... You don't even know when it's time to change tactics!"
With that, she flung the sword in her hand at the Woodsmen. Both were forced to duck to the side as it sailed past, and both turned incredulously as it clattered against the opposite barrier and fell uselessly to the ground.
Hirok returned his gaze forward first. "What –"
The Draik stumbled back as blinding light filled his vision; Brynn had wasted no time during the brief distraction and was already making another sweep with the enchanted sword Hanso had somehow found for her. The steady glow that the blade had given off when she had first touched it was now a full blaze, though she spared little thought to the change as she spun to the side and knocked the shapeshifting officer's helmeted head with its hilt.
The officer crumpled to the ground and fell unconscious, and the barrier that surrounded the three combatants flickered once and winked out. Hoofsteps sounded behind Brynn as she turned her full attention on the self-proclaimed General, who had recovered from the shock of the new events and brought his own sword forward.
As the swordmasters engaged, Brynn tried to puzzle out just how her blade's power worked. She had known that using the mysterious artefact was a risk, but now it seemed less an unknown danger and more just a fancy sort of weapon. The light it emitted appeared to signify nothing – no strengthening of attacks, no enhancement of her skill – and any useful effect of the light itself could only last for so long. The edge she had gained by surprising Hirok with the blade in the first place was swiftly dwindling; she would have to finish this quickly before her injury began to sap her strength.
Hirok parried another of her attacks and drew a quick breath, and Brynn could tell that he was preparing another burst of fire. This was her chance. She feinted a blow at the left, and he simultaneously raised his sword to block and released his fire. She dodged hard to the left and, when he failed to catch her movement through the flame and pull back, knocked his sword with her own at such an angle that it flew from his hands. Before the Draik could retrieve his weapon, her blade was an inch from his neck.
"Don't... even... think about using your firebreath again," Brynn panted as he froze on the spot.
Hirok turned his head slowly and deliberately to face her. He hissed, "Would you really kill a man for simply wanting a home for himself and his people?"
"No," the Kougra replied, though neither her gaze nor the position of her sword wavered in the slightest. "I'm not you."
"It's over, General Hirok," Rallon called from his place off to the side. For the first time, Brynn was able to see that he had been standing guard over the shapeshifter's form, lest the latter awaken and attempt to cause more trouble.
"While you were busy trying to beat a Gallery of Heroes member into submission, I've been keeping an eye on the tides of battle," the Uni continued. "As we speak, the Faerieland defensive forces are pushing your invaders further and further from the city. You have no power over us, and if you value your life and what's left of your honour you will stand down before any more blood is shed."
Hirok hesitated for a long moment. "...I suppose I must," he finally conceded. Brynn nodded once and took a step back, drawing her sword away from his throat.
Suddenly, Hirok ducked down and lashed out with his tail, sweeping her feet out from under her. Brynn managed to catch herself, but in that time the Draik leapt away and dove for his sword. Rallon reacted quickly, though, and reached the weapon first, kicking it away. Hirok crouched low, likely preparing a burst of fire, but by that time Brynn was on top of him.
She would never be entirely certain just what happened next. Hirok had forfeited his life with his trickery, and her next strike had been meant to take it. But something – perhaps the power in the sword, perhaps some deep-seated instinct of her own – instructed her to strike with the flat of the blade, and in the decision of an instant, she complied.
When the smooth metal slapped against the Draik's neck, the burning glow of the sword further intensified and spread to cover his body. Brynn and Rallon were forced to shield their eyes for a moment, but then the light died down to something approaching what the Kougra had seen the first time she had grasped the sword. When she looked forward again, Hirok was gone... She wasn't sure whether to be awed or horrified as she wondered just what had happened to him.
A choked gasp brought her out of these thoughts, and she turned to find that the shapeshifter had awoken and was now staring, wide-eyed, at the spot where his leader had sat a moment before. The light of the sword flared again and she took a defensive stance, but his eyes only bulged more as he scrambled to his feet and took a few steps back.
"Retreat..." the officer whispered hoarsely. With a flash, he was a dark faerie again, and with a heavy beat of her wings she took to the air and flew out over the nearest pocket of fighting, shrieking "RETREAT!"
Rallon snorted and stamped his foot. "That's what you get for appointing a coward as your second-in-command."
Brynn looked on, hardly daring to believe, as one by one the scattered groups of Haunted Woodsmen began to pull away from Faerieland's border. A few yards away, a large yellow Eyrie touched down with his rider – Aethia seemed badly bruised with a twisted wing, but very much alive.
"We saw a pretty big flash of light over here, and suddenly the Woodsmen look like they're all running off," Adrian said. "Do you have any idea what just happened?"
Brynn glanced down at the enchanted sword – it had stopped glowing completely all of a sudden, but she would worry about that later. She took a deep breath and returned her gaze to the Battle Faerie and Eyrie to give her answer.
* * * * *
"She said it's called the Aether Blade."
Brynn and Hanso were catching up again, but this time it wasn't a hurried conversation snatched in between preparations – just two companions walking down the street as Brynn enjoyed her first day off in what suddenly felt like far too long.
Hanso's brow furrowed. "'Aether?' What's that supposed to mean?"
Brynn shook her head. "It's hard to define. Something to do with cosmic energy, but I think it's referring to spirits and the force of life." That would explain what the writing on the blade said; Aethia had translated it from ancient Faerietongue to mean "A noble spirit is the greatest weapon." It also explained the glowing: the enchantment of the sword was able to sense the emotions and intentions of its wielder, and both the light it gave off and the power it held strengthened with the intensity of a need to protect those close to that person.
"It works kind of like a teleportation spell," the Kougra went on. "When it's at full power, touching the bare skin of an enemy with the blade takes them to a sort of prison in another dimension... Or something along those lines. And since it only activates in desperate situations where the wielder really is trying to protect, it's pretty much impossible to mishandle. I may get to keep using it – it's a good sword, even without the enchantment."
Hanso let out a low whistle. "A portable interdimensional war prison, huh? So that's what I found in the Hidden Tower."
Brynn gave him a sidelong glance. "By the way, is that why you were trying to sneak in last week?"
"Uhh..." The Ixi hesitated, clearly wishing he could use the excuse, and she just shook her head again. Some things would never change.
"Are you still planning to punish me for that?" he asked with a wince. After a pause, he offered an innocent glance and added, "Even if it gave me the idea that pretty much saved your skin and ended the battle early?"
Brynn rolled her eyes, but she couldn't help but smile a little. "I can't exactly discipline someone who isn't actually part of the guard... But that doesn't mean I'll have your back the next time you go and get yourself in trouble. Just try and save the crazy stunts for artefact hunting, okay?"
Hanso laughed. "Deal."
Brynn laughed too as he gave her shoulder a playful, though gentle shove. The gash in her arm was still healing, as it had been too deep for a spell to fix completely, but she didn't mind. The confrontation with the Woodsmen had promised and proven to be ugly, as all battles are... Yet, as far as battles went, it had turned out better than she could have hoped. The people – her people – still stood strong, and as the Captain of the Faerieland guard and her wild card of a best friend strolled down the cobblestone path, the sun shone down on a city once fallen but never truly broken, and all was at peace.