Chapter Sixty-two: Dancing the Charlie Foxtrot
“I am going to torture that bitch slowly for this,” Shar muttered as she observed the fortifications around the city that had literally just sprung up. They would be frustratingly difficult to escalade, although fortunately she had summoned up an entire tribe of shadow giants that worshipped her for this operation so they could assist in the siege.
“The time will come,” Vhaeraun noted as the troops fell in, a mixture of light adapted drow from Myth Drannor under his banner and various worshippers of Shar gathered from the Plane of Shadow. By far the most numerous of them were the Shadovar, the Netherese descendents blinking somewhat from the light of the rising sun as they marched through the portals opened up. The act of stabilizing the surrounding magical fields to let the troops quickly gather drained the deities involved significantly as the whole area was racked with damage from whatever had happened in Silverymoon.
Stripped of the Shadow Weave, Shar had in fact begrudgingly starting using the regular Weave -fortunately still unsupervised- like most deities to provide her worshippers with magical energy when they were in range. It was irritating though.
Talona and Loviatar were both bringing in their own worshippers as well, and while the two deities didn’t get along with each other, they were willing to work together with Shar between them in the hopes of getting a chance to stab the other in the back at some later point, and they both also had their own frustrations to work out.
Meanwhile Lolth had gathered up more drow from across the Underdark and moved them up near the surface, but while everyone else was being gathered they had to wait. The deities needed to work together on the next part.
Although evidently their foe didn’t need help to pull of something much more impressive than what they were going to attempt to do, a fact that pissed off Shar and that Vhaeraun and the others quietly filed away for a later date.
Suddenly with rather little warning two of the shadow giants simply exploded, their chests caved in and their backs blown out in a shower of gore. A half second later horrific cracks filled the air from the direction of the fortifications, wisps of smoke curling up from each of the points of the stars closest to the forming army.
The results were somewhat predictable as assembling troops all began to panic, spooked by the sudden deaths. The leaders and the gods all began to bellow and shout, trying to restore order as the troops attempted to get away from whatever had just happened.
The terrain in front of the fortifications then began to bubble and shift, magic saturating it with water and turning it into a morass of mud. At that point a strangely amplified tapping sound kicked up from the fortifications and, with the sun rising behind them, a group of bards with strange kit led by a creature whose presence prickled at the senses of the gods began to sing.
“In a foreign field he lay
Lonely soldier, unknown grave
On his dying words he prays
Tell the world of Paschendale
Relive all that he's been through
Last communion of his soul
Rust your bullets with his tears
Let me tell you 'bout his years
Laying low in a blood filled trench
Kill time 'til my very own death
On my face I can feel the falling rain
Never see my friends again
In the smoke, in the mud and lead
Smell the fear and the feeling of dread
Soon be time to go over the wall
Rapid fire and the end of us all
Whistles, shouts and more gun fire
Lifeless bodies hang on barbed wire
Battlefield nothing but a bloody tomb
Be reunited with my dead friends soon
Many soldiers eighteen years
Drown in mud, no more tears
Surely a war no-one can win
Killing time about to begin
Home, far away
From the war, a chance to live again
Home, far away
But the war, no chance to live again
The bodies of ours and our foes
The sea of death it overflows
In no man's land, God only knows
Into jaws of death we go
Crucified as if on a cross
Allied troops they mourn their loss
German war propaganda machine
Such before has never been seen
Swear I heard the angels cry
Pray to god no more may die
So that people know the truth
Tell the tale of Paschendale
Cruelty has a human heart
Every man does play his part
Terror of the men we kill
The human heart is hungry still
I stand my ground for the very last time
Gun is ready as I stand in line
Nervous wait for the whistle to blow
Rush of blood and over we go
Blood is falling like the rain
Its crimson cloak unveils again
The sound of guns can't hide their shame
And so we die on Paschendale
Dodging shrapnel and barbed wire
Running straight at the cannon fire
Running blind as I hold my breath
Say a prayer symphony of death
As we charge the enemy lines
A burst of fire and we go down
I choke a cry but no-one hears
Fell the blood go down my throat
Home, far away
From the war, a chance to live again
Home, far away
But the war, no chance to live again
Home, far away
From the war, a chance to live again
Home, far away
But the war, no chance to live again
See my spirit on the wind
Across the lines, beyond the hill
Friend and foe will meet again
Those who died at Paschendale”
The song, amplified and carrying a psychic component that allowed understanding despite language barriers filled the minds of the mundane troops with horror at the thought of assaulting a fortified position fronted by muddy terrain. Worse yet, it also gave meaning and understanding, of a patching of muddy, cratered hell where hundreds of thousands of bodies had sunk to the bottom, waiting just beneath the surface to drag any who touch the water down to their doom.
The gods grit their teeth as they realized how brutally well planned this attack had been. The average mortal soldier was now terrified of attacking what with the demonstration of their magic in killing two of the giants and the gods were busy keeping the portals for their forces open. If they tried to attack the performance they would sever the connection early and leave half their forces behind, forcing a delay of nearly a day as the gods gathered their strength again. With their clerics and their mages throwing magic that was harmlessly diverted into the stone of the fort and absorbed, it made them look impotent.
Finally Loviatar managed to lash sufficient fear of the gods into the troops that they ceased running, although further death and injury amongst the ranks of the giants caused by further attacks had convinced them not to bunch in tight formations, something that drastically reduced their effectiveness in a siege.
Vhaeraun was left to grumble as his drow had been the ones most affected by the attack, the disciplined Shadovar managing to hold the highest degree of coherency, followed somewhat less so by Loviatar’s people, as the images were somewhat extra disturbing for their point of view as the slaughter they perceived was often instant, relatively painless, and pointless, anathema to their philosophies.
Finally, after what seemed like forever the last of the troops under the combined banners of the gods exited their portals, having retreated significantly away from the walls, hiding in the forests from any more physical or mental attacks. Their prides stinging, the gods dropped their concentration on the portals and immediately began preparing their next attack.
“Dome of shadows… nice,” Lars commented sarcastically as the light of the rising sun was blocked out. He then glanced over at one of the more unexpected additions to their forces. It seemed that several of the survivors of Menzoberranzan had managed to replicate one of the howitzers on their own, using their own resources. They didn’t have many shells as none had been produced, but a few of the mages had managed to fabricate a few special rounds, having anticipated another day of construction rather than battle.
Glancing back at the forested area where the enemy had holed up for the moment, Lars said nonchalantly, “Illuminate their position.”
The hours following the capture of the remains of Silverymoon had been bad for anyone under Asmodeus, although most of his direct subordinates had managed to avoid the majority of his wrath as they had actually done what they were supposed to and it was only by the tiniest of fractions that they had missed the secondary target. For his part, Akrak had managed to keep his head and his position as his intelligence gathering had got them so close, even if close wasn’t quite good enough.
For his part, Asmodeus had managed to get his temper back under control and turned his temper down to a low simmer. The raid, while politically costly amongst his subordinates for appearing to fail when it had his personal seal on it, had actually proved that the secondary target had been near by and there had been some other developments.
For example, the capture of Corellon Larethian. Asmodeus was sorely tempted to kill the god now and take his divinity, fulfilling one of Asmodeus’ long term goals, but there were a few things holding him back. The first was that Asmodeus wasn’t quite sure if he could handle greater god’s chaotic portfolio. The second, more important issue, was that Ao tended to only concern himself with the activities of the gods and if Asmodeus elevated himself to godhood while taking time off from his assigned task that could result in him angering the overdeity while simultaneously putting himself under said deity’s sphere of influence.
No, Asmodeus would wait for the moment, keeping the elven god imprisoned on Nessus and in reserve for a later date.
Asmodeus was about to ask on the search for the leader of this city, one of the Seven Sisters and thus another useful prisoner when Akrak ran up to him, prostrating himself immediately before the ruler of Hell. Unfortunately there was so much rubble and magic was so snarled in this area even if the ball of wild magic had subsided that scrying was still impossible.
Sneering down at his scout, Asmodeus snapped irritably, “Report.”
“Of course my lord. Our scouts have detected a massive sphere of magical darkness impenetrable to even our eyesight around the location of Nesmé, the lead we were following before the events that drew us to Silverymoon. We now have exact coordinates, we can begin jumping in teleport troops at your command,” Akrak reported quickly.
Asmodeus glared at his subordinate for a long time before he said, “We begin at once. Your scouts are to go through first.”
“Of course,” Akrak replied before he scurried away.
Lolth and her allies emerged from their Underdark tunnels into a nightmarish scene. The promised shroud of darkness was up, but there was still plenty of light to see in as someone had touched off an inferno within the moors. This late in the summer, much of the normal moisture had drained out of the wooded area and especially around the city the trees were dry enough to burn. The introduction of about a half dozen napalm shells had turned the refuge of the trees into a killing oven.
Lolth, more unhinged than usual since her disfigurement, cried out to the confused forces, “Charge!”
With pissed off deities behind them, a fire at their current position, and an unexpected fortress and strange magic in front of them, the assembled forces charged. Five hundred drow followers of Vhaeraun from Myth Drannor. Two thousand drow followers of Lolth and other members of her pantheon. A thousand soldiers from the Shade Enclave. Six hundred followers of Loviatar. Two hundred followers of Talona. A hundred demons seconded to Lolth from her Abyssal allies. Forty shadow giants. Dozens of miscellaneous other creatures.
The pitiless stone walls, illuminated by the burning of the forests, loomed larger as the forces moved closer, and continued to redirect and absorb spells, sucking up the majority of magical firepower. They were also silent, the hidden behind their walls, waiting.
Then the front line troops hit the mud before the walls and the dying started. In three seconds every monk Loviatar had brought died, their superior speed only carrying them into the killing ground between the two prongs that flanked the main gate faster.
Interlocking cones of canister shot from six pound cannons and a specially modified Gatling gun turned flesh and bone to fine mist. The cannons only fired once while their crews reloaded, but the Gatling did not stop firing. It just went on and on and on, the machine magically enhanced to allow for theoretically infinite fire, and its incessant chatter of fire raked back and forth and side to side along the ranks of those charging the walls. Volley fire from rifles on either side added to the killing. Closely packed by the front ranks stalling and the rear ranks pressing forward, the bullets would occasionally rip through one body and maim the warrior behind.
Then the spiders showed up.
“Where did he get the hat?” Lars whispered to Rask as the two of them watched the battle before them, phase and shadow spiders ambushing soldiers at the periphery of the battle and dragging them off to other planes where battalions of sword and monstrous spiders waited to tear them apart and add to their larders for their brooding eggs.
Watching the battle with keen interest between the two of them was the system bug Think, inexplicably wearing an appropriately sized broad rimmed, purple hat with a bright orange feather. The bug seemed intently focused upon the battle playing out.
Rask, after summoning a swarm of alien spiders into the midst of several warrior-mages just shrugged and said, “I… ah… find it better not to ask, yes… yes…”
Lars shrugged. The assistance of Think and his harem of spiders were well appreciated and if the off kilter and more than a little crazy Rask didn’t want to know, neither did Lars. Think then hopped off and neither tried to stop the strange creature or ask where he was going.
Rask then frowned and said, “Oh dear… one of the avatars… Selvetarm… yes… yes… is not reacting to the guns as hoped… no… no. I think he may… yes… yes he will reach the wall and…”
Lars was already loading one of his special rounds when he stopped in mid-action to gape in open mouthed awe at what happened next. The whole battle came to a ragged halt for a second as the observed the sudden events. Rask ran over to the far side of a wall and violently vomited over the edge, an act that was repeated by many.
An unofficial ten minute time out was called as all sides regained their will to live.
His face twisted up in mute horror, Lars finally said, “That explains a whole lot of questions, most of wish I now regret ever asking.”
Crawling back to the wall, Rask asked fearfully, “Is… is it over?”
“Disgustingly enough, yes. A pity that won’t work on any of the other gods, but then again I’m pretty sure the bug already has enough divine energy after that as it is,” Lars replied.
Peaking over the edge, Rask whimpered and then closed his eyes against the sight.
“For the first time in my existence I truly pity my son,” Vhaeraun muttered from the near lines where he and Shar were helping to maintain the spell of darkness over the battlefield.
Shar for her part was steaming and ranting at her followers to find Lolth and bring her over to their position so she could yell at her. What had that charge hoped to accomplish? They didn’t even have proper ladders to mount an escalade!
As all sides finished emptying their stomachs, an act their gods did not blame them for, Lolth approached, a smile on her face and a balor at her side. Considering that there hadn’t been any balors in her forces before…
“Most esteemed deities, Graz’zt sends his compliments in prosecuting your war against the devils and presents to you a myriad of twenty thousand demons to do with as you see fit,” the balor replied smoothly.
There was a minor skip beat before all of the gods, including Lolth, all asked, “Wait, what devils?”
Lars just sort of stared as the situation unfolded before he turned to Rask and said, “There is a term for this in my culture. We call it a ‘Tokyo-3’, named after a battle that unfolded similar to something like this, only admittedly that was worse if less multi-faceted. Really though, I just want to ask WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?”
The decimated enemy formations had managed to limp back in between their retching, out of the overlapping killing fields of the fortifications and had just been bolstered by a small brigade of demons, only for tight, rigidly disciplined blocks of devils to appear out of literally nowhere and crash into the confused ranks. The darkened skies were filling up with flying fiends duelling in the confused melee.
Lars pinched his nose in exasperation before he said, “As commander, it behoves me to take responsibility for my troops. Thus, because some idiot will inevitably say it, or has already said it, let me go on record as taking the blame for this one. It can’t get any worse!”
On cue a hail of arrows was launched from a section of forest not yet on fire, at a right angle to the current battle and thus out of the line of fire of most of their troops at the moment. The devastating barrage caught the skirmishers stationed in those sections unawares, killing dozens and forcing the rest into shelters.
“That would be the elves I encountered earlier today… how’d they get here?” Lars asked.
“Perhaps they ah… think with portals, yes… yes?” Rask suggested.
Lars then turned his head to the side and said, “Oh hey, look at that! Several thousand orcs lead by an entire pantheon! Where are these guys coming from? Is the universe just pulling armies out of its ass to throw into this battle?”
The dome of shadows then began to waver and flicker, something disrupting its structure.
“Bets on what’s next?” Lars asked.
“You… ah… you did draw attention from… ah… that crazy mage, yes… yes?” Rask asked.
The dome of shadows did not quite completely dispel as it had two deities pumping energy into it, but it did go from a starless midnight to an eerie twilight as the magic was severely drained by the latest player entering the game.
Approximately the size of a storm giant, the thing was composed of bands of gold wrapped around bundles of brilliant silver-white fire. Sitting at its heart was Marella, the insane mage from like eight hours ago.
“Okay, seriously universe, where are you getting all of this? I mean, there had better be some incredible back story here that I’m not privy to,” Lars cried at the heavens, shaking his fist impotently.
“Wouldn’t it ah… need to be credible, yes… yes?” Rask pointed out.
“Shut up, I’m daring the universe for further amplification of this cluster fuck,” Lars growled irately.
A balor landed in front of them.
“Okay, this I can deal with,” Lars muttered before he pointed his shotgun at the demon and pulled the trigger, only to get a resounding click as the hammer came down on nothing.
“What the fuck is going on?” Shar cried out furiously as everything around them degenerated into chaos with devils suddenly crashing into their flanks, elves peppering all sides, and horde of orc barbarians attempting to get through to the elves by going through the drow, all while a mage that appeared to be inside a golem made of silverfire was stomping towards the enemy fortifications, its gold shod boots crushing everything beneath it and its very touch annihilating anything that stood in its way. Especially since it seemed to be sucking energy out of the Weave around it to power its construction, thus stripping many of their magical defences.
Oh, and then there was the actual enemy they were fighting.
“The elves I get, I brought them here… I’m still wondering on the devils but their presence and the demons seem to be related and they are counteracting each other so I’m not asking questions. The apparent incarnation of the instability of the Weave was already here and has a bug up her ass about something. The orcs I haven’t a clue about, although I will admit they are surprisingly stealthy for a group their size,” Vhaeraun summarized dryly.
“We will just have to turn this to our advantage,” Shar replied, and the two schemers looked at each other slyly for a second.
Yulois watched the slaughter all around him as his squad attempted to hold the line as nearly five times their number in orc barbarians assaulted the Shadovar position, the deadly weapons of Nesmé continuing to kill men all around them, although fire had focused upon the skies and the whirling clouds of fiends. It was somewhat depressing that generally the killing was directed at the Shadovar more than the orcs, although tactically it made sense to kill the guys who were definitely trying to kill you than the ones who were killing them. At least at first.
It was the same principle as why the strange silvery, flaming golem with the emaciated, burning woman at its core was left unmolested by the others as it stomped towards the fortifications. That and nothing seemed to work on it, magic dying away before it got close and normal weapons flashing away to smoke upon impact with the supernatural fires that composed the strange thing.
It seemed that the only way to stop the monster was to hit it with something that wasn’t physical and yet wasn’t magical either.
Finally seeing an opportunity as the orc assault ebbed away for a moment, Yulois cried out, “Fall back! We need to reform the line!”
As his men moved back, tightening up their ranks, Yulois pulled out a scroll that had been given to him for just this situation. Smiling grimly to his men, he said, “Special magic,” before he began to whisper the final pieces of the spell contained upon the enchanted parchment.
Then, as the scroll was consumed by the shadow magic it contained, Yulois cried out, “For the goddess!”
His men had never known him to be a devout Sharran, but they supposed such a desperate battle had brought out the religious side of Yulois.
Marella cackled with glee as she waded across the battlefield, safely contained within her construct. She had long been working on the theories behind binding and warding, hence her discovery of the remnants within the Weave. This was merely an extension of that work and what the remnants had taught her. She had created another, smaller breach in the fabric of the Weave but had contained it within the wards she had constructed, giving it shape and definition. Most golems were guided by bound spirits, but by binding her own spirit, if temporarily, she gave direction and intelligence to her creation. True, she sacrificed her spellcasting while bound, but then again she didn’t need spells when she was just this powerful.
Reaching the walls of the fortification her most hated of enemies hid behind, she went to drag the fingers of her construct across the surface of the stone, to obliterate what stood in her way, only for the fire of her golem to swirl away into the walls, greedily sucked up like water in a desert. Recoiling lest all her energy dissipate into the stone, she hissed in fury.
How dare that bastard try and foil her again! Insolent male!
Inhaling deeply, she exhaled out a plume of pure silverfire in a display that would make ancient dragons envious. Hiding behind their damnable wall, the defenders peppering her with attacks avoided the majority of the damage, but the soil around the wall was not afforded such protection and was immediately consumed… revealing more of that magically absorbent and infernally strong stone hidden underneath.
Marella couldn’t even begin to guess how deep the fortifications might go, but she had an itching suspicion that the bitch that had constructed this had sent the pillars of this construct all the way down to the deepest parts of the Underdark. It also explained the immense capacity for absorbing magic.
Grunting, Marella decided to do things the hard way. Stomping through the mud, the golden boots of the silverfire golem keeping it from simply sinking into the ground and continuing down forever, Marella made for the main gate. Ignoring the ineffectual attacks of the defenders, she brought back a single foot and then slammed it hard into the door.
The main structure of the fortress was a single piece of stone of great thickness, with no fault lines or points of attack. The moving parts, like the gates, were a part of the overall structure in the same way, and thus had far less of a capacity to absorb magic and resist blows. This was only relatively speaking of course, but when kicked by a golem made out of raw wild magic…
With a titanic ringing sound like the biggest gong ever being struck and a crack like a piece of the Great Glacier tumbling away in the spring, Marella put a huge fissure in the main gate.
Revenge would be hers! At long last!
Clinging desperately to the neck of the balor that had attacked him, about the only ‘safe’ point on the damn thing, for relative terms of ‘safe’, Lars watched in horror as that psychotic mage attacked the fortifications Skuld had built and began to kick in the front gate. Unfortunately, with a demon’s claws digging into him, struggling to get purchase while Lars tried to dig out its brain with his tentacles, he was a little preoccupied.
And while he doubted the enigmatic mercenary would even get close to the insane beast, Shyft too was pretty busy, running a marilith through with his lance while a pair of vrocks tried to pry his armour off to reveal the hidden squishy being within, putting their primary anti-golem warrior out of commission.
Even with the Gatling pouring everything it had into the construct it didn’t seem to be doing any good, and it often had to switch back to a crude anti-aircraft weapon as the demons attacked the walls from above. Already the defenders were hard pressed and taking losses to the fliers and teleporters.
Then Lars and the balor both paused for a moment as a new enemy entered the battlefield.
“What the…?” They both asked in confusion. The demon because it had never seen anything quite like that before.
Lars because he never expected to see a battlemech on the battlefield.
Washal the Pale rode in the holy construct, the fruits of the labour of the magical Whispered gathered together. Most of them had been working on various other projects already, it was just with this newly discovered bond and information, they had discovered an idea within their heads that they began to work towards. While not much of a warrior, a mage was needed to activate most of the machine’s functions.
Emerging from the portal conjured by Brother Yulois, Washal immediately discovered the nightmare war zone that was the field outside Nesmé. The scene was darkened by shadow magic, but illuminated by the burning of the forests and the occasional flash of thunder from a storm growing overhead. Combatants warred in all directions, and the dead were strewn in piles of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of bodies. Demons and devils battled in the skies, creating a light rain of multi-coloured blood and ichor.
But worst of all, there was some sort of burning golem that had just managed to kick down the main gates in a shower of black stone chips. Triggering a wand, Washal pumped a powerful fireball into a specially designed magical chamber originally designed as a sort of smaller mythallar to replace the normal ones that the enclave had been unable to replicate for nearly seventeen hundred years for unknown reasons.
Now it captured the magical heat. Heat was light. Light could be ordered, could be transformed from a sphere into a cylinder.
Clumsily raising the mechanical arm to the construct, Washal relied on the magical targeting system to line up his shot. Putting the reticule right on the centre of mass for the thing assaulting the goddess’ territory, Washal pulled the trigger.
The air crackled with the sound and smell of lightning as the powerful beam of coherent light excited and ionized the air before slamming into the golem and punching into the swirling forces that composed it, burning through to Marella’s personal wards where the beam flared and died, breaking on her shields.
“Oh dear,” Washal noted as he hopped over the Shadovar ranks and kicked and kneed his machine awkwardly through the hordes of orcs as the silverfire golem picked itself up off the ground.
Johan stumbled out of the rubble of the destroyed door, many of the other combat engineers having died in the shower of shrapnel after the final blow when the gate finally collapsed. Blood pouring into his right eye from a cut on his forehead, limping from a sprained ankle caused by rolling out of the way, he stumbled out into the open, disoriented.
The main gate had been smashed open. This was not good. Already the enemy armies were starting to surge forward through the chaos and confusion, probably more out of a desire to be inside the fortifications when the next bit of shit hit the windmill.
Lightning cracked across the unnaturally darkened sky, a massive thundercloud having moved in, perhaps the foul weather attracted by the foul activities occurring below.
Looking about for a weapon, anything, Johan spied a fallen rifle. He wasn’t yet proficient with the weapons, but he had worked with building them enough that he had some basic knowledge of how to load and fire one. And at least it had a bayonet on it, the poor bastard who had last held it having evidently been gutted by a demon and then tossed over the wall.
Picking up the rifle and leaning on it like a crutch, Johan watched that hateful construct rush off to attack the strange, dark golem with the funny magical lightning gun that had appeared and attacked it.
Searching for some ammunition, Johan discovered a single cartridge, the bullet unfortunately torn out leaving only the powder and the percussion cap. Grunting, he shoved it down the gun before he focused on transforming the shadows within the barrel into something more solid.
Leaning up against the smooth wall for support, Johan painfully lined up on the retreating golem’s back. He then whispered, “Fuck you,” before he pulled the trigger. There was a slight splash of shadows as the round impacted, but nothing else.
Grunting, Johan began to limp back inside, his futile message sent, unaware of what he had done.
While a spider with far too many limbs ripped into the back of a babau demon, Lars struggled to finish tearing the head off a glabrezu, the dead and dying all around, while he burned with power. He was absorbing massive amounts of emotional energy from all around, fuelling greater and greater heights of bloodlust.
Then, almost as a counter-point to the frenzied wailing of the battle, a low whistle that simultaneously rumbled like distant thunder could be heard, drifting just within the range of hearing of all of those around.
“Yippee-yi-ya, yippee-yi-yo…” the winds whispered mournfully, sending a shiver through Lars’.
The heavens opened with a massive torrent of rain, the opening barrage as flaming horsemen charged down out of the thundercloud that had settled over the battlefield. Theirs chains cracking the air like the thunder that accompanied the beat of their horse’s hooves on the air, they crashed into the flying demons and devils, although by sheer numerical odds they hit fought the demons far more than the devils.
Across the battlefield thousands began to tremble and cower at the song of the Ghost Riders, including the fiends. Unfortunately, while this took the slack off the defenders as the lesser demons began to break in panic, so too did the devils start to lose the coherence of their formations, which meant that they no longer kept the now panicked drow and Shadovar forces properly contained.
With burning horsemen singing songs of doom above them, devils behind them, and the gates to Nesmé cracked open in front of them, the massive force began to stampede straight for the city. The avatars of the various gods managed to exert small pools of order, but mostly they just directed their troops towards the breach in a more organized fashion.
Finally twisting off the head of the demon, Lars watched as the Gatling slaughtered hundreds but failed to overcome the panic. There were just too many for their tiny numbers to overcome. Sheer terror was going to carry the enemy into the city on momentum instead of discipline.
This was going to be bad.
Kirilae stood in front of the academy along with several of the combat instructors and some of the older students. There had originally been layers of defence, but as the battle got worse more and more of the defenders were sent to the walls to try and deal with the catastrophe. Some of the demons had already tried to bypass the walls, but strangely devils had made extra effort to draw them off, so the final line of defence for the children remained unmolested.
Her sword out in front of her, Kirilae drew a line in the mud on the cobble stones cried out, “This is where we stand! This is where we fight! We fight for the future! For all of us who never thought tomorrow would be better than today, we fight for the future. If we yield here, then all is lost. So we fight as if there is no tomorrow, for there is no tomorrow for us! Tomorrow is for our children! So let us carve our memorial into the hearts of our enemies! Let them look upon what we protect and shy away for fear we will return for them!”
She could see the enemy coming, panic in their eyes. Orcs, humans, her fellow drow, all terrified of what lay behind them as they boiled out of the fortifications, their momentum having already overwhelmed the defenders within.
Johan was in there, somewhere.
Her sword held low, Kirilae let the flat of the blade protect the line she had drawn. It would not be the only thing she would do to protect it.
Washal discovered much to his chagrin that while he was faster than the enemy golem and that while his own construct would not shut down in the presence of the anti-magic field that surrounded the strange thing his magically initiated weapons and piloting aids were nullified, and his inexperience meant that he often stumbled, letting it get far closer than he would have liked, resulting in frequent loss of many of his systems.
Fortunately the burning golem had yet to get within clinching distance, at which point Washal was confident the fight would be all over for him.
Lurching out away from the enemy and tripping, rolling over a mob of panicked orcs that had got too close to the duelling titans and squashing them flat, adding to the already impressive paint of gore if also obscuring the view screen once again, Washal frantically ran backward, only barely in control as he nearly tripped over a squad of drow raiders.
For a second magic returned and Washal the minor cleaning spell bound to the glassteel window that let him gaze out on the world and the fact that he had not opened up as much space as he would have hoped and that he had also managed to back himself up against impassable terrain, with a cliff on two sides and a forest to the left. He could probably navigate through the forest, but not quickly enough to evade the silverfire golem. He also would not have enough time to arm his weapons.
Before the enemy golem could charge him a log, really more of an uprooted tree actually, emerged from the forest and smashed into the magical construct. While the majority of the projectile was immediately annihilated, a significant chunk of its mass made contact with one of the magically strengthened gold bands containing the raw magic first, which knocked the golem to the side awkwardly, just as it was unbalanced before a charge but before it had built up momentum.
From the forest that hemmed him in, an absolutely vicious looking creature as large as the combatants, if not more so, stood. It had vaguely blended mammalian, reptilian, and avian features. It had pebbled scale skin mottled an earthy-yellow and forest green colour to create a subtle camouflage pattern ideal for temperate wooded areas. Its feet were three toed talons while its arms were long and grasping, ending in a pair of clawed fingers with a smaller thumb seemingly tacked to manipulate things. Atop its head it had long, almost feathery hair done up into a series of dreadlocks, which quite nicely framed the massive shovel maw that had more teeth than… than…
The closest metaphor Washal could come up with was that it had more teeth than the Harpell Family, whom Washal had met once while travelling the planes.
Roaring with seemingly impossible volume, the bizarre creature heralded the arrival of swarms of smaller bestial creatures. There were tigers and wolves and boars and…
Washal suddenly figured out the identity of this faction. There must have been hundreds of lycanthropes pouring out of the woods, the giant being one of the stranger examples that occasionally showed up. That many lycanthropes, especially the savage ones like werewolves, could only mean one deity.
Running his machine out of the little entrapment he had dug for himself while the enemy golem tried to get its feet again, Washal put a good amount of distance between himself and the golem before he took stock of the magic he had remaining.
Out of fireballs. Damn.
The fireball trick was the only weapon they had actually tested out so far, the Whispered having rushed their creation into the field when it was discovered that their goddess was threatened. They had one other experiment to try. Washal activated the lightning cannon in the opposite arm. They weren’t quite how many hits from a wand of lightning it would take to get it up to full power. So Washal just kept triggering the wand until something happened.
Finally after throwing three lightning bolts into the resonating chamber the whole system hit its limit and exploded, shredding Washal’s left hand as the entire arm was turned to shrapnel, but not before unleashing a massive ball of electricity at the silverfire golem. A ball of electricity that washed over it, damaging the gold containment rings and completely snapping one that was around an arm raised in instinctive defence.
The silverfire golem staggered, now spewing uncontrolled magic that arced to the nearest source of magical grounding… namely the still intact containment bands, paralyzing the construct as it began to consume itself. Long loops of silverfire, similar to a certain structure Washal remembered from his dreams and that he thought of as ‘poles’ began to writhe across the surface of the golem, stacking up and becoming increasingly dangerous looking.
There was also now an ugly, unnatural colour tainting the light of the silverfire, something that told of a rot that had already been growing in the golem, only now it was unleashed from the restraints that kept it in check.
Washal, despite the blood loss making him woozy, figured that now was an exceedingly good time to run. The lycanthropes that hadn’t already run into the city in pursuit of prey also seemed to take up the idea that it would be a good idea to escape.
Kirilae was the last one alive, out of defender and attacker, the bodies piled up knee deep all around her as she and her fellows cut down everything that came at them, unafraid of death while their foes were terrified of the doom in the song that the Ghost Riders sang. But now she was out of spells and only by kneeling and leaning on her sword could she stay upright. She was spent, down to her last nubbin of life.
Looking up, she discovered a new foe towering over her now, a grotesque hybrid of human and animal: a werewolf. There was an entire pack of them and stranger creatures before her, sniffing at all the blood and carnage about them. Their yellowed, evil eyes looked at her hungrily.
Kirilae struggled to her feet, her whole body shaking with the effort, the dozens of wounds that had penetrated her shadow silk armour bleeding freely with the exertion, but she still stood, shivering with blood loss and the soaking from the thunderstorm, but still defiant, the line before her uncrossed.
One of the creatures looked like it was about to pounce when a grey and red blur struck it from behind, barrelling it down. Some sort of strange amalgam of lupine, feline, and apish features had landed on the creature and began ripping it apart, adding more blood to its filthy fur. It was nominally grey furred except for its head, which was a brilliant crimson colour.
Spitting the severed spinal column out, the beast looked at the now cowed werewolves and screamed, “Two commandments! Two! Use your noses and leave this one be! Suitable prey beckons!”
Tails between their legs the werewolves ran off while their monstrous leader peered down at Kirilae while she stared back at it defiantly and said, “Cross the line.”
Cackling a psychotic hyena laugh, the creature said, “I like you drow. You would do well in my church.”
Cluing in that she was confronted with the avatar of a particularly savage deity, Kirilae replied defiantly, “Not interested, I have my own goddess.”
Snickering, the god said, “Yes, Lolth has you all whipped well, I will give her that.”
“The little bitch hasn’t served me for a long time, I can tell you that,” an imperious voice replied.
Kirilae turned her head slowly while the bestial god snapped his head about like a wild dog, they both discovered a single breasted drow woman surrounded by psychotic clerics who had clearly been recently similarly maimed.
“Malar… I was not informed that you were expected… then again neither was I informed about many of the others who showed up,” Lolth sneered.
Sniffing the air, Malar said then pulled something out of… somewhere… and held it up. It was a brass cartridge for a .50 rifle. He then growled, “What do you know about this?”
“It was used to maim me, by the same god that the bitch before you worships,” Lolth replied in disgust and wrath.
A look of realization followed by seething anger settled over Malar and he said, “You… you tricked me! You used your son to taunt me, to get me to chase your prey. We were allies!”
Lolth shrugged and said, “Shar was giving me a better deal and she didn’t think you would play well with her friend Loviatar. Besides, what do I care for your bruised ego?”
Malar’s eye twitched and his lips curled back from his razor sharp teeth. “I’ll kill you bitch.”
Lolth smiled smugly before she said, “My children and Loviatar would beg to differ.”
A third voice joined in and said, “Actually… Gruumsh and his pantheon managed to follow you in, Vhaeraun and Shar didn’t manage to distract them enough for some reason. So mother, it looks like it’s you, me, and the very effective killer to sort it out at close quarters.”
Eilistraee emerged from the shadows and smiled smugly.
Lolth looked around her and discovered that she did not have the support she thought she did. “I’ll castrate that bastard son of mine!”
“You won’t get the chance,” Malar noted as he charged, his worshippers following behind to attack Lolth’s followers while Eilistraee leapt into the fray, her bastard sword flashing.
Kirilae just tried to crawl away from the confrontation.
The badly damaged golem exploded, sending a wave of silverfire in every direction while the burning point that was where Marella’s heart once resided became the focus point of the damage caused by Johan mixing silverfire and shadow magic. When the two forces of the two Weaves mixed in their pure forms, bad things happened to the fabric of the planes. Upon initial impact a tiny rift was formed, but then it was pulled into the wards of the golem and contained, yet fed by the raw, wild magic, making it stronger, sending the damage deeper and deeper into the underlying strata of the universe.
When it finally all went off, Marella found that she was floating in free space above a massive, spherical crater gouged out by the explosion, unable to move as her body began to implode upon a single point, lines of magic seeping further and further into the hole in reality.
She whimpered when a massive tentacle erupted from her chest, burning with silverfire but simultaneously perverting and polluting the magic that destroyed it as it was consumed. The remnants in her mind scrambled to escape for the most part, but one of them screamed in fury and frustration.
She had been so close!
With an almost sighing burp Marella was drawn into the rapidly expanding fissure in reality, her body pulped as it was practically sucked through a straw while her soul was lost to the distorting lines of the Weave, turned into a remnant like those she had discovered.
Surrounded by silverfire that was rapidly curdling from the unnatural energies and laws seeping out, the strange, three-dimensional fractal crack began to expand. From the other side of the crack a colossal eye opened, peering through to a place as equally strange to its perceptions as its home was to the creatures of the Realms.
The creature from the Far Realm reached an inquiring limb -to describe it as anything more detailed than a limb was impossible due to a lack of common reference words- and picked up a stunned Shadovar soldier, hauling him back within to examine. The screaming did not stop once the unfortunate passed the threshold of the rift.
Everything was falling apart. Lars could feel the immense amount of damage to space and time, and that it was impossible to stop the cracks from spreading from this side and he had not the power or the knowledge to repair it from the other side. He doubted anyone here did.
The Realms were doomed. The thin bubble surrounding them, protecting them from the hostile void that existed between realities had been pierced, and now there was a general undoing of the laws that governed all the things that allowed regular life to exist.
Lars, and by extension Gunnhild, would treat such a nightmare realm as home, but no one else could. Lars could protect one or two beings, but he already knew who his only choice was. He just had to find Skuld before…
His cry echoed across the multiverse of the Realms, carried psychically with the full power a communications daemon could muster. For most, the strange message caused all activity everywhere to cease as they tried to discern the message.
“DON’T!” Lars cried out.
He watched helplessly as Skuld, hammer out and Noble Umbra fully manifested, shadows swirling about her so thickly she was dark as night, flew into the widening crack and disappeared. A few seconds later with an anti-climatic pop so too did the portal to the Far Realm.
Lars stood in shock for a long moment before he found the trigger to his gun.
He turned to the people he had just a few seconds ago been willing to abandon to a horrific death and said, “Everything that isn’t on our side dies.”
I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists