Adventure in a Virtual World

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 36 (v.1) - Attack

Submitted: October 11, 2017

Reads: 28

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Submitted: October 11, 2017

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Shana opens the door to the guest sleeping quarters. Setting her sights on the nearest bed she makes a beeline for the covers. The trip to Orlian wasn’t very long, but navigating the massive city itself and the stops along the way took nearly half the day. She lets out a happy sigh as she curls up into a ball under the covers, barely taking the time to undress before resting her head on the pillow. She closes her eyes and within moments she drifts into a deep sleep.

Early the next morning she wakes with a start. A cold sweat covers her entire body. She jumps out of bed and crosses the room to a small balcony. Dressed only in her underwear she steps outside. She takes a deep breath of the cool morning air and shivers. 

Dark clouds slowly roll in from the north and thunder booms in the distance. It looks like it’s going to be another dreary day. Shana turns to head back inside but stops when the thunder rumbles again—much closer this time. She walks up to the railing and looks down at the moat below. The calm sea green water ripples only slightly as water bugs glide along its surface. 

Without warning the entire castle shakes and nearly knocks her off her feet. A dark haze begins to shroud the city. On the horizon is a bright orange glow, but it’s not that of the rising sun. Orlian is under attack!

***

Dirt sprays into the air as an explosion rocks the earth. A thick black plume of smoke rises into the air, obscuring the morning sun. Throats burn and eyes water. The acrid sulfur smell can't cover the stench of death. Screams of terror and pain echo across the battlefield. As men lay dying their compatriots stamp out the last remaining spark. It's every man for himself as the two armies clash and mix into each other.

They find themselves met by unyielding steel, trapped by the surging wave of allies at their backs. Every agonizing inch of skin-piercing metal is another memory flashing before their eyes and another memory never to be made. Every drop of blood spilling freely coats the ground in broken dreams. The slick ground is a pool of despair waiting to drown even the strongest of wills.

Jake stands upon a rocky hilltop, just outside the city walls, overlooking the mayhem. Booming thunder rolls somewhere in the distance. Even the heavens join the war song. His mind races in a thousand different directions. One of his captains fails to follow orders and rushes on ahead, whether by ignorance or defiance is unclear. Unless something is done it won’t soon matter.

“Second company, forward! Archers, loose! Cavalry—fall back and wait for my command!” Jake shouts confidently. The frontline surges forward and out, clearing a path for the second wave. A hail of arrows pierce an entire enemy unit before they can even raise their shields. 

Fighting deep within enemy lines the Strauss captain rallies his troops by single handedly striking down three men. One by one he and his men dispatch their opponents. Bodies begin to pile around them as they try to cut a path back to the main force.

“Cavalry at the ready!” The heavily armored riders form tight ranks. Hooves tear into the ground as the mighty warhorses grow impatient. Four of the captain’s men fall from a sudden barrage of arrows, their bodies resembling pin cushions. 

“Charge!” Jake cries.

Sixty royal knights rush headlong into the sea of moving body parts, slaughtering any foe foolish enough to stand in the way. Arrows continue to rain seemingly without end from both sides. The wall of deceased that had only moments before provided some form of protection now blocks the only means of escape. Even as salvation draws near, death proves to be closer. The captain hits the ground, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth as his eyes fade into an eternal stare.

“All units fall back!” The mounted knights split into two equal groups and charge down the line, separating the two armies and allowing them to disengage. For the third time today the battle reaches a stalemate. The Strauss army regroups just outside Odano’s eastern wall while Dermith forces fall back to the rocky pass nine hundred yards away.

Spellcasters and medics from both sides hurry to tend to the wounded and the dying that still lie in the field. During this brief time of peace, sides do not exist. Jake looks on as a young mage approaches one soldier and then another. Despite being on opposite sides, when all are well enough they calmly go their separate ways.

The break doesn’t last long before the war drums sound. Tens of thousands pairs of feet step in time to the beat. The steady pulse picks up in tempo. Armor rattles noisily as the pace moves from a jog to a full out run. Mounted warriors rush ahead in a cloud of dust, bolstered by the war cries at their backs. Thunder crashes as lightning crackles in the dark clouds above. In an instant the battlefield is drenched in ice cold rain. Like the floodgates of the heavens have been lifted, ankle deep pools form in a matter of seconds.

A bright flash lights the scene as the royal cavalry obliterates the Dermith frontline. Before they even know what hit them over a hundred men lie dead. Just as quickly as they came, these dealers of death slip back into the darkness. 

Jake takes short, fast strides staying nimble on his feet. The sound of galloping hooves sloshing through the muck around him is music to his ears. With phase one complete he pushes forward, phase two close at hand.

Another great flash illuminates an angry swarm gliding through the air. Hundreds of twitching stingers fall back to earth. Ten feet above the ground multi-colored lights ripple as arrows skip across the barrier shielding the entire army.

Drawing on the strength of the eight closest spellcasters Jake concentrates the magic into a much smaller area but with ten times the potency. Bodies ragdoll from the force of a freight train as he rushes ahead, using the magical shield as a battering ram. Swords and arrows deflect around him while fireballs fizzle out harmlessly on contact. For two long minutes he single handedly splits the Dermith army into two halves without having to take a single life.

As the borrowed power begins to wane Jake places his palms together and clears his mind in preparation for phase three. His legs shake and his fingers tremble like coming off an adrenaline rush. Every inch of his extremities tingle as the blood in his veins hums with power. Thrusting his arms outwards to the sides he discharges a shockwave in a forty foot radius, flattening everything caught in its path. Empty suits of armor fall to the ground like tin cans. Jake’s stomach twists and empties its contents. It had to be done, he reassures himself as he wipes his mouth on his sleeve.

During the chaos and panic that follows, five hundred of Strauss’ elite emerge from the forest to the east. Now flanking the enemy they use the narrow pass to their advantage, cutting off the only easy route of escape. Even though they have been tasked with keeping an entire army at bay they show no fear and give no ground. 

In a panic the bulk of the Dermith army scatters in every direction, their ranks in complete shambles as the cavalry returns to Jake’s side. Many desperately attempt to escape into the hills on either side of the pass but are met by a wall of roaring yellow flames.

Everything is going perfectly, Jake thinks with a grim smile. Still he remains alert, casually knocking away desperate attacks that slip past his guards. With every escape route cut off it won’t be long before the entire army turns its attention towards the king and nearly forty thousand enemy soldiers will be bearing down on his position.

***

“Quickly now. We do not have much time,” Carmen says with a forced whisper. She carefully closes the bedroom door behind her then strides over to a wooden dresser pressed against the back wall. She then begins fumbling with something in the bottom drawer.

An audible click comes from the center of the room, just below Shana’s feet. Startled by the release of a trap door she jumps back. She watches in confusion as Carmen hurries past—a worn brown cloak draped over her shoulder—and pries it open. She looks down and then back at Carmen. Her normally well-kempt black hair sticks out around her ponytail, a dark patch is quickly forming underneath one eye, and even more alarming is the bright red trail across the floor.

Without warning Carmen deftly steps behind Shana, tosses the cloak over her, and gives her a gentle push towards the opening. Shana takes an off-balance step forward and windmills her arms. Before she can recover a swift hip check sends her sliding down a smooth slope into the dusty depths of the hidden passage. The soft thud of a sword landing in the dirt beside her follows a few seconds later before the trap door slams shut.

From up above Carmen shouts out a warning, moments before the unmistakable sound of splintering wood. “They seek to remove the crown. Trust no one.”

***

“Your Majesty, we have lost contact with the others!” a young sergeant shouts over the noise of the battle, explosions erupting at a near constant. The young woman slides in back to back with her king and lifts her crimson stained blade. Three deep gouges along its edge compromise its integrity.

“I’m aware. We’re being jammed.” Jake lifts his weary head just in time to parry two attacks at once. Beads of sweat trickle down his face as he cuts down the aggressors with one smooth swipe. “Take command of the riders and do what it takes to reinforce the pass. If those men fall this will all have been pointless.” He successfully set the trap but make one wrong move, after all the meticulous planning and hardfought hours, it could all come crashing down. Sacrificing the lives of all those men is not an option. 

“My King, what about you?”

“Clear me a path, I’ll be right behind you.” 

The young woman hesitates before reluctantly rushing back into the thick of things. It wouldn’t do her any good to stay, not with the condition of her weapon. Besides, she is completely unaware of the ancient presence shrouding the battlefield. Only those attuned to detecting magic dispersed across such a large area would be. 

Panic grips the spellcasters tightly, a deep uneasiness washing over them. Although they are oblivious to the source it’s hard to miss that something changed. Fear spreads through the ranks of soldiers like the plague. Like dominoes the men fall victim to the spell.

Jake bows his head and reaches out to every friendly mage still in possession of their wits. Out of a couple hundred, only three have maintained their composure. ‘Ride into the city and alert the entire guard to enact a full-scale lockdown. Do what you must to see that no one else goes in or out until I give the ok… and I do mean no one. Do I make myself clear?' 

As powerful as he has become in just a few months, Jake is far from being able to do everything on his own. He may be the pureblood king but only in title. A novice like him would be foolish to face Gideon alone. He hoped the Security Council would return before the wizard showed himself but the situation isn’t looking good. Should he focus on easing the minds of those around him or conserve energy for the inevitable showdown?

Every decision seems to boil down to either the people or him. As he stands completely alone he wonders where the line is. When does selflessness become reckless, selfishness become necessary, and kindness become cruel? Would the people of Strauss have been able to defend this land on their own or have they become dependent on the ruler who chose to don the mantle? If he were to fall now would the kingdom follow?

Shana… how do you make this look so easy? he wonders. She acts on what she knows is right without a second thought. Maybe she should have taken my place. This is her army. Melwood, Corenthin, and Merriweather pledged their lives to her first. What have I done to earn their respect… inherit a pointy metal hat?

A solid boom from the direction of the pass rips Jake from his thoughts. The ground shakes and lets out a low rumble. For the second time the Dermith forces make a full scale retreat, towards the pass. With the Strauss soldiers nipping at their heels they ignore Jake completely as they rush past him. He lowers his weapon and sticks it in the ground for support as the sea of bodies pushes by. The hair on the back of his neck suddenly stands on end. He squints and sweeps his drenched black hair from his eyes. Something’s not right, he thinks as he stares intently into the rain.

“All forces fall back, now!” he cries, covering the immediate area with a barrier. A column of bright orange flames erupts high into the air, melting the walls of the pass. Multicolored streaks light up the sky like a christmas tree. Enemy reinforcements.

Like deer caught in the headlights his men stand frozen in fear even as the first volley of burning meteors descend. A sea of fire quickly engulfs the area, consuming even those lucky enough to have dodged the initial impacts. The heat is so intense that not even their armor remains. At least they didn’t suffer. Even so, for the most battle-hardened it’s hard to comprehend your comrades disappearing so completely. 

Jake’s heart nearly stops as he turns his attention to the wall of magical fire quickly spreading across the width of the field. In under two minutes it forms a box around him, sealed off by the molten rock of what had once been the pass. This time, with no means of escape, there is truly nothing between him and the entirety of the enemy army.

Just on the other side of the dancing flames are a quickly growing number of bustling shapes as the shaken soldiers congregate en masse. They try to yell out for their king but between the blazing wall and the fire still raining from the sky their words are lost.

***

Frantic shouts and wails of terror echo throughout Orlian’s outer districts. Civilians and soldiers alike take to the streets. Doors and window shutters bang like machine guns as millions of bodies migrate towards the southernmost gates while the alarms scream within their towers to the west. Panicked citizens flee the city by the hundreds even as the heavy metal gates are quickly cranked shut. 

Sentries atop the wall avert their eyes as the gates shut violently on more than a dozen bodies. Never meant to close with such haste the gates shudder and send a ripple along the length of the wall. Four men take a seventy foot plunge to the ground below as they lose their balance.

Shana stands frozen in place, eyes wide, watching the flailing men as they fall. There’s nothing she can do to change their fate without giving herself away. A hand grips her arm roughly and pulls her away from the bushes she just emerged from.

“Ay girl, keep ‘er movin’ before they decide to kill the lot of us!” a man with a thick accent hisses as he drags her into the middle of the fleeing crowd.

“No, you don’t understand. I-I need to…” she says, her voice trailing off when she takes in his rough appearance. She lowers her head, pulls her heavy brown travel cloak tight, and allows herself to be guided along.

A mile southeast of the city the road splits in two directions—continuing south directly through the Karas forest and northeast along the forest’s edge, back up towards Laren and Odano. Shana maneuvers through the crowd, approaching those on horseback as they continue southward. She has only one thing on her mind, to find a ride back to Laren.

“Please, I need to find my sister,” Shana begs, trying to keep the desperation out of her voice. The man atop a saddle kicks at her as he urges the horse forward. “Please!”

“Damn girl. Get out of the way!” 

I should never have left her behind. She shakes her head and comes to a stop. The soldier’s armor clanks as he rides away. Then she would have been targeted too… 

...unless she already has been. She turns around and pushes her way back towards the fork in the road. Breaking free she takes off at a run, determined to sprint the whole way there if she has to.

“Ay, girl,” a voice calls after her. Shana sighs with relief as she looks over her shoulder at the man from before leading a single horse by the reigns. “Don’ be runnin’ off so hasty.” She eyes him cautiously as she waits for him to catch up, the deep scars on his face even more apparent now.

“Lady first,” he says offering a hand and a warm smile. Her eyes flick to just above his waist as a soft breeze blows. The glint of a dagger peeks out from under his cloak, the head of a snake clearly visible on the hilt. Pretending not to notice she smiles back and accepts help mounting the horse. “Now let’s find that sister o’ yours.” 

As they ride Shana remains alert, fully expecting the dagger to emerge at any moment. After forty five minutes of uneventful silence she lowers her guard just enough to make conversation. Before she can open her mouth to speak the man asks, “What’s ‘er name? Your sister.”

She carefully weighs her options before replying. Can she risk giving away her identity if he doesn’t already know? The saddle shifts as the man repositions himself. Shana uses the distraction as an excuse to change the subject.

“Maybe we should rest for a bit,” she suggests.

He nods in agreement as he pulls up on the reigns. “We are ‘bout to have company.” 

Just up the path the road takes a sharp bend, patches of trees on either side make it impossible to see around it. As if on cue two men march around the corner. They wear lightweight black and gold leather uniforms. Standard military issue short swords swing at their hips. They’re dressed like Odano city guards so what are they doing just south of Laren?

Shana discreetly slides a hand along her side, careful not to draw her traveling companion’s attention as he dismounts the horse. Her fingertips reach her belt and feel around for the hilt of her rapier. Her body tenses in a panic as she brushes the top of an empty scabbard. It must have fallen out during her escape from the city. Out of the corner of his eye the man takes note of her every micro expression while simultaneously watching the two guards as they approach. 

The first boldly walks right up to up to Shana’s horse and gives it a quick scratch. “Afternoon folks,” he says calmly with a bright smile. His counterpart hangs back at a safe distance with one hand on his weapon, staring down the man at Shana’s side.

“Afta-noon, the name’s Emediel. What brings you gentlemen ‘round?” the man replies as he offers up his arm to Shana. She accepts his help and hops down before retreating behind him.

“None of your business,” the second guard growls taking a step forward.

“Now, now, that’s no way to speak to a man in front of his lady,” the first scolds, then winks at Shana. “Don’t mind him, he’s just upset about missing all the action.”

The war or Orlian? Shana wonders with suspicion. 

“I didn’t join so I could clean up someone else’s mess,” the second fires back. “Not when I can just as easily create my own,” he mumbles.

Ignoring his partner’s complaints the first turns his attention to Emediel. “We were looking for someone but it appears they gave us the slip. So if you’re headed towards Laren or Odano we wouldn’t mind providing temporary protection.”

“Speak for yourself,” the second mutters.

“If it be a bother I shan’t impose. ‘Tis not far and I know the way,” Emediel replies kindly as he takes hold of the reigns. The first guard steps out of the way, a sickly sweet smile plastered on his face and contempt in his eyes. Emediel walks no farther than ten feet before he stops and turns around. Shana hasn’t budged, Carmen’s words ringing in her ears as she looks between the three men.

The second guard raises an eyebrow, a hint of a smirk betrays his sudden interest in the situation. “Changed your mind?” he asks her.

“I was just thinking… she probably headed south with everyone else by now.” She pauses, then speaks slowly, carefully choosing her words. “I don’t want you to go out of your way for my sake if she’s not even there.” Satisfied by her answer the second turns to the other guard as if to say ‘See?’.

Refusing to let his offer be declined the first straightens his back and squares his stance. “It is no trouble at all. Like I said we must be headed back by now anyway.” One hand inches towards his belt as he speaks—the motion goes almost unnoticed.

Emediel’s keen eye does pick up on the movement though. He walks up to the guard and places a hand firmly on the man’s shoulder. “I think the lady is just too polite to say she doesn’t trust you. Besides, like I said, it’s not very far,” he says forcefully and with intent, no trace of the previous accent in his voice. “Right, Your Majesty?” Before the words have a chance to fully register Shana takes off running up the path, dodging a pair of arms that try to grab her. The sound of pursuing footsteps follow after her a few moments later.

Loose gravel crunches loudly underfoot with every adrenaline fueled step she takes. On two occasions she nearly falls but manages to keep putting one foot in front of the other. As she nears the bend in the road her breath is ragged and her legs are already starting to burn. Without slowing she glances over her shoulder just in time to catch a glimpse of Emediel tackling the first guard from behind, the unmoving body of the second crumpled in a heap a short distance back. 

Distracted by the two men as they wrestle on the ground Shana doesn’t notice the rapidly approaching curve. She faces forward with just enough time to shield her face with her arms before crashing through some heavy brush. Propelled by a downward slope she’s unable to stop herself as she stumbles. Branches and thorns claw at skin and fabric alike, tearing into them deeply. 

At the bottom of the hill she comes to an abrupt stop. Her battered and bloody body lies limply at the base of a tall oak tree. High up in the air its branches wiggle slightly, a single leaf drifts to the ground below.


© Copyright 2018 T.J. Little. All rights reserved.

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