As the cold winter chill bit into the bones of the two armies standing facing off, Uana the Gale Aspect breathed anew a storm of sharp ice and heavy flakes. When the snow struck the ground, so too would Garghent strike the entrenched soldiers of Bast, the center line of which, proudly and arrogant, standing like a statue, was the steed Oborion and upon his back the Master of Kings, Eberon. On his flank were the Specters, Rhenai the Blinds Aspect, Hoiden the Tyrian Aspect, Crnobog and five veterans of Eberon’s army, Seqal the Swain Aspect, Hidgan the Berserker Aspect, Fellen the Quest Aspect, Alium the Seal Aspect and Elrig the Archer Aspect.
Eberon ordered all of his soldiers to bolster the north and south sides, leaving the center completely vacant for the Aspect fight bound to occur.
The blizzard came and Eberon lifted his flaming sword as a beacon against the winter. Rhenai tapped the ground with her boot and created a hypnotic circle around her. As the center of a constantly changing black and white fractal, Rhenai was practically invisible within the circumference of her Blinds. Hoiden summoned her purple titan from beneath the ground. Only the torso, head and arms were above the surface and Hoiden climbed the titan’s back to stand on its shoulders.
Crnobog had little to prepare, other than to wait for a target to twist and contort with his hand motions.
Seqal, an expert fencer, activated his Swain Aspect, an Astral rapier with an ornate basket hilt that floated in the air next to him. Hidgan the Beserker Aspect, stripped of armor and shirt, had a bazooka resting across his bare upper back slung between his raised arms. Fellen the Quest Aspect wore a winter camouflage jacket and sat on the snow playing with her dagger and pistol.
Alium the Seal Aspect stretched out his arm by swinging a small hatchet back and forth. On his belt were a dozen hatchets and holstered in another belt around his torso were two dozen more hatchets.
Finally there was Elrig the Archer Aspect whose weapon was a multidimensional bow. The contraption consisted of a larger main bow and inside, facing another direction was a second bow and still inside that bow was a third bow facing in a new direction from the other two. Between the three main bows were places for string connecting a tip from one bow to the other, creating more bows within the bows. The overall shape of the three tiered bow was vaguely spherical and taller than a person from the bottom nock of the main bow to the top nock. He had it planted in the ground, notched with a bundle of arrows all facing different directions and tied at the shaft.
Coming from the snow, materialized General Garald first, hefting the Babel mallet. The Gemini, General Yivel and General Anteran followed behind. Fanning out from there were the rest of the Specters, Magun, Bria, Xander, Meanu, Abagene, Hijo, Uana, Jillian, Hido, Bregan, Corvan, Juy, Karnev, Eris, Luri and Kaden. All with Aspects at the ready.
Uana continued to take deep breaths, feeding the blizzard further. Bregan let steam gush out from his palms, causing the air to grow foggy, reducing visibility. Xander’s Good Karma was on, evidenced by his gold-glowing eyes and the soft gold aura zapping from his body.
Meanu and Kaden were preparing their Candle-Firebird combination, Kaden using Meanu’s green Candle flames as fuel for his Firebirds.
Corvan was humming quietly to himself, keeping his voice warmed up. Hido stood focusing, calming the tension in her body and mentally readying to numb the pain she would transfer from her comrades to herself. Jillian watched her team, studying their positions and memorizing their strategies. She would have to know everyone’s location at all times, even amidst the snow storm and steam fog, in order to pull anyone from danger.
Magun was in a fully calcified muscle-bone suit and his right arm was turned into a very large cannon. Eris the Bodkin Aspect chewed on medical grade bubble gum with added ingredients to promote salivation. He used his spit to coat the bullets he loaded into his rifle. Karnev the Palisade Aspect stood close to General Garald, the two had come up with a plan. Hijo squatted next to Luri. As the Beast-Tamer Aspect, Luri had the ability to command those with bestial Aspects, such as Hijo’s Wild Aspect. Bria, the acrobat and dancer, started shedding very transparent and chic silk Ribbons from her body. Juy stayed near Kaden and Meanu, frustrated in not being able to use her Aspect but having developed at least a plan worth trying.
Abagene came already Metamorphosed, fused genetically with a mantis, in this case a classic green mantis, however the mantis she had Metamorphosed with was a very large one, nearly fifteen centimeters in length, an impressive size for almost any insect to be.
Abagene had been fond of that mantis, but knew her time was near and so offered her one last glorious hunt. Abagene was encased in the mantis exoskeleton, though the mantis was much bigger than a human now, as if mantis’ were naturally three meters tall. Abagene and the mantis fused into one, sharing mind, body and instinct. The loss of certain anatomical features such as vocal chords prevented Abagene from speaking in this state. All she could do was hiss. Her feet and parts of her arms dangled from the thorax as the proportion was not even, and so they jutted out slightly. Her head aligned with the head of the mantis and most of her torso to its thorax, and that was it.
Abagene watched the entire battlefield at once with her highly specialized eyes. A mantis, in fact, has five eyes and so Abagene saw the world through different lenses of color, movement and perception that was far superior to a normal human. The eyes of a species built for a world far deadlier than the human one.
Eberon and his Specters on one side and Garald leading the Specters of Garghent on the other.
Eberon looked from one enemy to the next, affixing his gaze to each in turn. “The young fascinate me. They do not understand what they should fear. It is their most impressive quality as well as their greatest folly. They should fear me, but no worries, I will teach them fear as one by one they are cut down.”
“I am not terribly fond of the cold,” mused Garald, “Can we skip the jesting?”
“As you wish.” Eberon intoned.
Garald pounded the ground with Babel, creating a massive tower. Karnev rushed behind it and placed his hands on the tower. “This may take some time!”
The potential energy of all the Specters turned kinetic as the fighting began.
Elrig the Archer Aspect released his arrows which shot in too many directions to keep track of. The spread of arrows were swept aside by a powerful wind from the Gale Aspect. The arrows flew back towards him and he dove out of the way.
Magun fired an explosive cannon shot at the foot of the charging Eberon, intentionally aiming for the snow in front of his horse. The snow that spewed up created a screen long enough for Kaden to launch his Candle enhanced Firebirds. He threw them from his hands like paper airplanes and they soared directly to King Eberon, melting the wall of snow tossed up by Magun. The Firebirds sizzled and died upon hitting Eberon, causing nothing more than a mark of burnt ash. Eberon laughed and continued his charge.
Hoiden used her scepter to control the movements of her Tyrian titan. With a wave of her scepter, the titan grabbed a large boulder of snow covered rock and threw it towards Uana in the back. Garald, from a distance, hit the ground at an angle and sprung a tower to block the boulder.
“She’s mine!” The Babel Aspect shouted. Garald launched himself with a tower and flew in the air toward Hoiden. Her titan moved to slap Garald in mid air but the Babel hammer deflected the hand with enough force to knock the whole titan to the side following the batted hand. The titan’s other hand used that momentum to slam Garald down in retaliation.
Bregan poured out steam aimed solely for Eberon as Eris, Magun, and Kaden fired everything into Eberon.
Elrig was pinned down by a hailstorm of icy shards from Uana.
Alium in a swift flurry of hatchet swings, sent thin white strips towards Uana. They were all but invisible with the contrast of the blizzard. One strip hit Uana’s mouth. The Seal Aspect worked by preventing use of the body part the Seal tags. Uana found she suddenly couldn’t breathe out or speak. Jillian sprinted to Uana and yanked the Gale Specter out of the way. More Seal strips were coming and one hit Jillian in the ear, right where Uana stood a second ago. It would have hit Uana’s nose, effectively Sealing both places of breathing. A close call.
Crnobog worked on twisted muscle and limbs of Bregan and Magun. By putting someone in his vision and with his fingers up to his eye, Crnobog squeezed and pulled as if he were adjacent to his target.
“Magun, you fought him before, take care of him!” Bregan shouted between pained contortions.
“On it!” Magun fired shots as he sprinted to close the distance.
Eberon galloped toward Garghent’s line, unaffected by all efforts to stop him.
Xander, with Good Karma activated, and the Gemini cut off Eberon. The Gemini constantly locked Eberon in place with his spectral weapons as Xander weaved and dodged Eberon’s attacks. Xander landed blow after blow on Eberon, who grew frustrated as strikes he knew should land missed by a hair.
Hidgan the Berserker Aspect aimed his bazooka for the tower Garald first built, and fired. The bazooka was in fact, not a bazooka but a very big chain gun. The harpoon head dug into the tower and Hidgan activated a lever which initiated the pulling mechanism, drawing the gun and Hidgan toward the harpoon. Propped on the side of the tower, Hidgan pulled the harpoon head out and fell to the ground. Wielding a massive cylinder of steel and iron, Hidgan charged into the backline of Garghent’s Specters. Hijo and Luri engaged Hidgan.
Hijo ducked under a brutal swing of Hidgan’s rocket gun and dived to tackle the Berserker Aspect. He didn’t budge and Hijo was on the receiving end of a downward strike of the bazooka right on the spine of Hijo. A paralyzing strike that would crush the spine and throat into an unrecognizable heap. The strike connected but Hijo was unaffected save for being knocked to the ground where he quickly stood and shouted in fury before landing a series of punches to the surprised Hidgan.
Hijo had been saved by Hido, the Guardian Aspect who had held a palm out to Hijo, absorbing the damage into herself in the form of pure pain. She staggered from the impact but kept her balance and surveyed the battle for other allies to protect.
Corvan charged Rhenai, the Blinds Aspect. He was counting on his ability to use sound as a weapon to be a good counter to Rhenai’s naturally visual Aspect. He entered her field of hypnotic black and white. He shouted a series of high-pitched screeches which usually work at stunning an opponent from close range. The Blinds field stopped moving and Corvan kept the pressure on. Eventually the noise would incapacitate anyone unlucky enough to be under a constant barrage deafening noise. Sickness and loss of motor skills followed by passing out.
Corvan didn’t see the kick coming. A pointed boot reinforced with heavy material, perfect for tapping the ground, knocked the wind out of him. Rhenai had moved separately from her field, tricking Corvan into thinking she had been affected. A further tap recentered the hypnotic field to Rhenai’s position and she delivered several more kicks to Corvan. His Chorus Aspect did nothing as he noticed two white strips over Rhenai’s ears. They had anticipated the match up and Sealed her hearing.
Corvan was in trouble. Bria came to his rescue. The Ribbon Aspect entered the field and began flinging silk ribbons that shed from her skin.
Seqal the Swain Aspect met Anteran, the Silver Duelist, the Electrum Aspect.
“Care to have this duel with me?” Anteran asked with a salute of his ornate saber.
Seqal controlled his Astral rapier with a raised finger of his left hand to salute back. Anteran stepped in and sent a lightning fast lunge. Seqal’s rapier deflected the saber and twirled in the air, and in a fluid motion of his finger, riposted by slashing across. Anteran stepped back but the rapier was not bound by Seqal’s position and it jabbed at Anteran. He dodged the first jab and blocked the second, but the third was aimed low and cut his thigh deeply.
Seqal fought as if left-handed, keeping the blade angled much like a left handed swordsman. In the dueling world, the left hand provides an awkward position for the more normal right-handed swordsman, like Anteran. In a match between two experts, no matter the blade of choice or the manner in which the blade was wielded, such as a floating rapier in the case of Seqal, small advantages like being an uncommon handedness could make the difference. The left handed Seqal was used to versing right handers while the right handed Anteran was less accustomed to versing left handers.
Anteran had been losing ground purposefully, and now with some distance from Seqal, pulled out his equally ornate flintlock pistol and fired at Seqal. The Astral rapier spun with a whir, acting as a wheel and cut the pellet in half right in front of Anteran. Seqal sent the wheel to dismember Anteran’s pistol hand. The Silver Duelist wedged his own blade in the spinning rapier and successfully stopped the wheel at the cost of his own sword being dislodged from his grip.
Over where Eberon fought, General Yivel, Xander, Bregan, Abagene and the Gemini all worked at halting the king of Bast. Yivel’s chain whip hit Eberon everytime he made a strike. The Gemini kept Oborion from being able to move around while Xander and Abagene made fast in and out attacks.
They lacked the firepower to do much to Eberon, but sufficiently stopping him until the rest of the Specters could wipe out Eberon’s support was the primary goal.
Kaden and Meanu changed targets to Elrig and Alium. With Uana’s breathing temporarily cut off, Elrig was able to fire volley after volley of arrows. Some went to where Eberon was fighting, some to Hidgan, others toward Rhenai and still more sailed randomly to Hoiden and Seqal. One arrow bounced off Magun’s calcified armor. Another lodged itself in Hijo’s shoulder in the middle of his fight. An arrow meant for Xander barely missed him, thanks to his Good Karma and one arrow appeared in Eris’ stomach. He was shocked to find it there and even more shocked to discover the pain was nonexistent. Once again Hido’s palm was directed to a severe wound, transferring the pain to herself. She doubled over this time. “Pull out the arrow!” Hido shouted through grit teeth. Eris wrenched it free and discarded the arrow. Hido stood back up and wiped blood from her nose.
Elrig fired three such volleys off before having to run from green Firebirds that soared in wide arcs back and forth, aimed at his position. He grabbed his massive bow and repositioned. Kaden kept up the pressure until a series of white strips hit his hands, legs, chest and face. He was Sealed completely from movement and action and so stood exposed.
Elrig loaded his bow, this time he loaded it with another bow as well as multiple arrows. After pulling back, he aimed up in the air. Elrig released his bowstring and shot out several bow and arrows. The bow and arrows fired their own arrows once airborne. Arrows flew from multiple angles all towards the immobile Kaden.
Jillian came sprinting at full speed and shoved Kaden out of harm’s way. He slid across the snow, safe from the arrows, for the time being. Jillian was agile enough to dodge the arrows on her own while Meanu put a single candle flame in front of her face. The one arrow aimed for her entered the Candle and melted without a trace. She put the Candle out by grabbing it and ran to engage Alium in close combat.
In the fighting between Garald and Hoiden, the Babel hammer was piecing Hoiden’s titan. He repeatedly created towers to burst into the titan’s body or pin it’s limbs against multiple towers. By the time the titan could wrestle free, more towers were already being added.
Garald stood on top of one tower that was taller than the titan. Hoiden swung her scepter to knock the tower from under Garald’s feet but the Babel Aspect jumped and hit his own tower first. The tower was flattened and the titan’s swing passed by, overcompensating and leaving it exposed. As Garald fell he smashed his hammer against another nearby tower and converted its height to a sideways tower that punched the titan in the face. It reeled back and Hoiden was thrown from its back.
Hoiden screamed in frustration and fury. “Get up!” Hoiden shouted. “All the way up!” Hoiden mounted her purple titan’s back as it pushed off from the ground. The titan pulled its torso from the ground and brought to surface its legs. Standing on feet now, Hoiden’s titan stood at full height, nearly twenty meters tall, thoroughly muscular, defined with sinewy veins and contoured brawn.
“Karnev!” Garald called.
“I need more time!” Karnev called back.
Garald’s towers were easily destroyed by the titan’s stomping and slapping. Garald reengaged the titan, buying time for Karnev to prepare his Aspect.
Nearby, Hijo was beginning to sprout antlers and wolfskin as his transformation was triggered by the action and violence. His cognitive abilities were reducing, which is where Luri came in. His Aspect allowed him to give orders and stop Hijo from rampaging his own team. Hidgan delivered multiple blows that should have been enough to paralyze or kill Hijo but the Guardian Aspect absorbed enough of the force to give Hijo the time he needed to transform. Hidgan switched targets to Luri, who proved to be an able fighter himself. Luri stayed on the defensive, knowing the wrong move could leave his brain bashed in by the bazooka-harpoon gun. Hijo dropped to all fours and charged from behind Hidgan. Hidgan turned and smashed the bazooka in Hijo’s face, knocking him to the side. Hidgan then fired the harpoon into Hijo’s chest. This time there was no protection from the Guardian Aspect. Hijo howled but his beast was already taking over. “More!” a barely human voice screamed in excitement. Hijo pulled the harpoon head out and rose to a crouch. The antlers grew larger and hooves replaced his feet as claws replaced hands. Hijo growled.
“Kill him.” Luri commanded. Hijo leapt to Hidgan, who swung his bazooka like a bat. Hijo expected this and was really aiming to grab onto the gun from the onset of his leap. Hidgan heaved the weapon up and brought it down to crush Hijo under. Hijo let his grip go just before and Hidgan slammed his weapon to the ground. It left him open for a blood ripping rake across his chest. Blood spurted out in a mist. Hidgan backed of a few steps.
“We are not so different.” Hidgan spoke. “As long as I’m fighting, all the wounds I receive will heal should I slay the opponent that deals them out. So let’s see how far we can take this!”
Both Hijo and Hidgan were madmen for battle. Enjoying not the war or the reason for war, but the actual fighting, the rush of combat, the true joy of life.
Some distance away, Magun was having trouble reaching Crnobog. Despite the armor his Tank provided him, it did little aside from softening the contortions and squeezing that Crnobog inflicted. It was the same problem Magun faced when he fought the demented Specter years ago in the Tournament, though he had ended up winning that duel.
Any shot he made to fire was twisted out of its aim. Crnobog worked meticulously at tearing Magun apart. At a close enough distance now, Crnobog held both hands up to his eye, centering Magun in the small gap. Crnobog slowly closed his hands together, crushing Magun like a bug between his hands.
Magun held both hands out, trying to bear the force of the crushing hands, like two invisible walls closing in. Magun’s armor was cracking and his vision blurred. What he saw in that state was a laughing devil surrounded by flames. Magun wedged his normal hand, elbow at one end and hand at the other. He felt the bones in his arm straining. They could snap at any moment.
Crnobog was trembling from the pressure and his eyes rolled back in and out his head. The force required to crush someone was extremely high and Crnobog struggled to finish the job. Magun’s armor was the only thing keeping him from being splattered by Crnobog. Grunting, Magun brought his cannon to bear, his shoulder suffering from the movement and his other hand about to break as it wedged the closing walls.
Magun’s cannon arm swelled, draining precious armor to fuel the ammunition, and fired.
The shot tore into one of Crnobog’s hands, obliterated it and most of his forearm to his elbow.
In the moment that Crnobog’s limb blew off, Anteran who dueled some meters to the side and bleeding profusely from a dozen different wounds in a losing battle against Seqal, fired his gun toward the spray of blood that came from Crnobog. His Aspect activated. Electrum. When his bullet touched the blood, the blood transmuted into a solid gold-silver alloy, spreading from one droplet to the rest like an infectious growth. Crnobog, realizing his plight as the Electrum metal spread to his open wound, jumped away while pinching off the rest of his arm, losing the entirety of the limb to the shoulder.
The Electrum metal changed into spikes and burst, launching out in a volley to Seqal from behind.
The Swain Aspect had no choice but to deflect the shards of Electrum with his Astral rapier. It gave Anteran enough time to roll to recover his own blade, scoop it up, and finish the tumble with a lunge straight into the heart of Seqal.
Seqal clutched his chest. His own sword was above Anteran, poised to strike him dead as well. But the body prioritizes the heart, so that if anything happens to the heart the body cuts off the function of nearby systems to preserve strength and blood flow to the heart. It was just Seqal’s misfortune that he should be left handed. His body refused his command and therefore his sword was unmoving, suspended in the air. Ready to kill his opponent but lacking the command.
Seqal slid backwards, out of Anteran’s blade and landed on the snow, staining it red.
His final words were quiet and more mouthed than actually spoken. “I failed you, my king.” Seqal died without taking out his own opponent.
Magun aimed his cannon to the wounded Crnobog on the ground. “Surrender.” Magun wouldn’t hesitate to fire. Crnobog had no choice. He pinched close his stump wound and layed back in the snow, angry and defeated.
Amidst all the fighting, Garghent’s Specters failed to keep track of their own most integral Specter. Hido, the Guardian. Jillian had run off to retrieve the beat up Corvan and Uana was still Sealed.
The blizzard was starting to subside as Uana could not fuel it further, but the accumulation of steam from Bregan’s endless oozing started to really build up and plume out.
Either way, no one noticed Fellen, the Quest Aspect, sneak up on Hido. Fellen’s goal was to keep Hido from saving her team. She engaged Hido with her dagger and pistol.
Hido, although now unable to protect allies, was a very capable martial artist. She fought in baggy clothes and had the added durability from her Aspect. The body armor under her clothes prevented the pistol shot from close range when Fellen first appeared. Hido disarmed Fellen’s gun and blocked the dagger strike. She knew each second she wasted fighting this assassin could potentially be a mortal wound landed on someone else.
On the other side of the fighting, Rhenai and Bria were engaged in a trance fight. Rhenai’s flashing Blinds and Bria’s shimmering Ribbons would make an untrained eye dizzy and confused. Both Specters trained and lived in these kaleidoscopic worlds of dance and tricks of the eye. A single strike was lost in a slowly falling pile of silk or an optical illusion of black and white. Bria knew few of her fellow Specters would perform well against Rhenai, as evidenced by Corvan’s swift defeat. Bria was the only one agile and trained for the constant spinning and hallucinatory effects of the optical illusion field in which Rhenai brought her enemies into.
Control of the battleground was Rhenai’s biggest advantage. She was stronger than Bria but lacked some of the more extreme flexibility and acrobatics that Bria was specialized in.
The victor would be whoever could adequately subdue the other with their respective hypnotics.
Bria did not go in unprepared. She had a plan. From the beginning of the fight Bria had shed Ribbons that were all connected to each other. The allusive and flowy nature of the silk would inhibit the eye even outside the rush of combat. Bria had not shed separate Ribbons of silk, but rather a single, continuous strand, many meters long by now. She picked up the strategy from circus magicians who use a very lengthy handkerchief for their comedy act.
Bria started to pirouette rapidly, drawing to herself her single stream of Ribbon. The falling snow acted as further camouflage for the translucent silk hidden under thin layers of snow. The Ribbon was pulled up from everywhere she had deposited it, including under Rhenai’s feet.
Rhenai tripped and saw the mass of Ribbon where Bria just stood suddenly lose shape and collapse. Bria in the next instant appeared behind Rhenai, the lightweight ribbons taking that single moment longer to fall and lose shape, giving Bria a headstart before the ploy gets discovered. Bria began to wrap the Blinds Aspect in a thicker cloth Ribbon. Bria was too quick and Rhenai found that her arms and feet were bound like a spider.
Hoiden’s titan disrupted the Specters fighting Eberon. The Tyians Specter ignored Garald for the most part, barreling through his towers.
“Incoming!” bellowed Garald in warning.
Bregan stepped up and directed his steam to the titan but an easy swipe brushed the steam away and another slap sent Bregan flying, rendering him unconscious before he slid to a halt in the snow.
Magun managed to load another shot into his cannon and aimed for Hoiden.
She turned in time to direct her titan to put up a hand, blocking the shot. Garald slammed another tower, trying to knock Hoiden off the titan. The titan’s other hand stopped the tower from erupting higher than its arm’s length. The titan grabbed a chunk of the tower and threw the boulder towards Xander, in an act of long held bitterness for Hoiden had been beaten by Xander in the Tournament, something she had not forgotten.
Xander’s Good Karma was sufficient in swiveling out of boulder’s radius while simultaneously staying clear of Eberon’s sword.
Still fighting elsewhere, Meanu and Alium were in an intense hand-eye coordination duel. Meanu, who trained in sleight of hand and used her smaller frame to its advantage, by staying an agile and hard to hit target, fought by placing her Candle flames in the air with her finger. Each little green Candle flame possessed a very concentrated heat and remained unmoving at whatever location she placed, like a dot on a canvas.
Alium’s Seal Aspect was launched by swinging his hatchets. As it turned out, a Seal strip would null a Candle flame at the cost of the Seal strip. Essentially each Aspect canceled the other out when interacting with each other. If Meanu could land a Candle on Alium, she would burn a hole wherever she hit. For Alium, his Seal could debilitate whole body parts or muscles on the body. It became a battle of attrition as well.
Meanu only needed to match Alium’s swings and place a Candle each time he sent a strip. He could send several in succession with the right flurry of hatchet swings. As a dual wielder, Alium tried to beat Meanu in speed, but she was able to keep his pace while placing extra Candles, slowly constricting his space to move around in.
Alium threw a hatchet to stay unpredictable but Meanu didn’t miss a beat and ducked under it while placing a Candle to stop the real attack of the Seal from the hatchet he didn’t throw. Alium drew another hatchet and threw his first hatchet before drawing yet another. Alium’s attacks were beginning to be overwhelming. One of the hatchet’s managed to clip Meanu’s arm, cutting a deep gash. Allium pressed his advantage and landed a Seal on Meanu’s leg. It didn’t completely stop her leg from moving but it did hinder some mobility. Meanu was forced to limp while Alium dodged around her Candles to attack from her weakened side.
Alium landed several more Seals and Meanu could no longer move half her body. Alium brought a hatchet up, ready for a kill strike when a forceful breath gave him pause. Uana snuck up behind Alium and released her breath through her nose. Alium’s hand was frozen. He turned to strike with his other hatchet but Uana ducked under and breathed on his legs, freezing those as well.
Meanu stuck a thumb out in front of Alium’s head. “It’s over.” Meanu needed only to push forward and a hole would be burnt into his skull.
Alium dropped his weapon, cursing his defeat. Uana scooped a hatchet and knocked Alium out with the blunt end. Unconscious, Alium’s Aspect deactivated and all those hit by Seals were freed.
Juy rushed to Kaden who was now able to move again. “Let’s try it!”
“Where?” he replied.
Juy closed her eyes and focused, feeling for the moon. “Up there! You see where that cloud meets the other one? Go to the left of it about a finger’s width.”
Kaden held out a finger, gauging the direction. “Okay, think I got it.” He cupped his hands to his mouth and started to breathe into them. Opening his palms emerged flaming bird. He held his hands up to the sky, where Juy pointed to and continued to breathe on his Firebird. The flames licked out and the bird grew in size. He removed his hands and the Firebird soared into the sky, hitting the clouds and melting a hole through them as it traveled.
The hole in the sky revealed the moon, a common occurrence during the day, especially in the winter. It was a dull moon but it would have to suffice.
“Everyone get down!” Juy warned. “Moonblink!” She activated her Aspect and a brilliant silver light flashed for a split second. Anyone who had their eyes opened at this moment experienced a moment of severe disorientation and vertigo along with a mild blindness. The effects were muted by the day moon that was already hidden behind clouds again, but it was two seconds that changed the pacing of the fight.
There were four Garghent Specters who were afflicted by the Moonblink, unable to close their eyes at that moment. Hijo and Luri were two, Magun and Eris the other two.
Hido has closed her eyes but received a dagger in the side from doing so. Her opponent, Fellen, however, was disoriented and Hido ignored the dagger and performed an expert takedown. Fellen was pinned and Hido dislocated Fellen’s shoulder with a satisfying pop before delivering a knee to the head, knocking Fellen unconscious. Hido pulled the dagger out as Uana came to her aid. She breathed on the wound very lightly, enough to numb the pain and congeal the blood.
In the same moments after the Moonblink, Karnev shouted out. “Ready!” Between Garald’s distraction and the momentary lull Hoiden experienced from the Moonblink, the purple titan stood still.
Karven had been focusing his Aspect all into the first tower Garald had created with Babel. Imbued with Karnev’s Aspect finally, the large tower became a clay soldier with a bow. Karnev pointed to Hoiden and the purple titan, directing his terracotta bowman to fire at her. The massive bow and arrow was the same clay that composed the warrior, and using itself as ammunition, fired a javelin sized arrow straight at the titan.
Hoiden tried to brace her titan from the arrow. The impact staggered her titan and nearly knocked her off balance. Another arrow followed shortly after forcing the titan further back. Garald hit the ground softly, right behind the heel of the titan’s feet, a small stub of a tower emerged, just enough to trip the titan.
Hoiden did everything she could to keep its balance intact but a third arrow hit the titan square in the chest and pushed it the rest of the way down. The titan fell hard and Hoiden was forced to leap from it to avoid being crushed. She fell from a high point and only due to the snow did she not suffer any serious injuries. Although she would be incapacitated for awhile.
Garald slumped to the ground, his breathing ragged. The titan did a number on him and he could feel the tender bone of several cracked ribs. His whole body was bruised severely and he knew this fight was over for him.
Hidgan, even with the vertigo of the Moonblink, managed to fight through it just fine. Luri and Hijo, on the other hand, were muddled. Hidgan smashed Luri with his bazooka gun, the blow only being softened by an awkward misstep. Where the hit should have shattered Luri’s skull, it only concussed him and threw him face first into the snow.
Hijo charged Hidgan in fury, gashing the already bloodied Berserker Specter with sharp antlers. Hidgan made to smash his bazooka down but this time Hijo used his claws to puncture through the tendons of Hidgan’s raised arms. Hijo pulled down and ripped the muscles apart causing Hidgan to drop the bazooka. Hijo stepped back, yanking Hidgan with him and let the bazooka fall on his head. Hijo then tore Hidgan from his antlers and chomped down on Hidgan’s neck with wolf-like teeth.
Hijo spat out Hidgan’s throat before turning a hungered eye to Eberon.
Eberon, who was unaffected by the Moonblink, took a moment to look around the battlefield. His Specters had all lost. It was disappointing but in truth, they had been outnumbered quite a bit. He expected to be able to carve a path through Garghent’s Specters with ease but they had proven to be resilient. Especially the boy who was glowing gold and the giant insect girl.
Eberon stayed without concern. His emotions cool and calculating, courtesy of the necklace of the second King of Bast, bringing clarity of thought.
Garghent’s Specters gathered in a circle around Eberon. Remaining in the fight were Xander, Abagene, General Yivel, the Gemini, Uana, Kaden, Hido, Eris, Bria, Jillian and Karnev with his giant terracotta soldier. Meanu, Anteran, Garald, Magun, Corvan and Bregan were all in too poor a condition to fight Eberon. They would be liabilities at this point.
“Ranged attacks don’t harm him,” started Eris. “General Yivel, let me coat your chain whip with my Bodkin Aspect.”
“Buy us more time.” ordered Yivel as he and Eris took cover to apply Bodkin.
Xander and Abagene stood guard in front of Yivel and Eris. Bria started moving toward Eberon, shedding Ribbons and evading Eberon’s attacks. Oborion turned suddenly to dash to someone else but the Gemini halted its movements with a spectral lance. By the time Eberon’s emerald destroyed the spectral lance, Karnev’s terracotta giant fired an arrow from above. Although Eberon was unharmed, the force behind the arrow pushed him back. Oborion backpedaled into a barrier of ice created by Uana. Eberon turned and shattered the wall with his flaming sword. By now, Garghent had a system for pinning Eberon down. Their fast hit and run tactics and chemistry working together kept them alive. The plan was to try Yivel’s Bodkin enhanced whip and if that didn’t work they would keep Eberon subdued until the next idea came about.
“It’s ready.” Eris declared. There was nothing substantially different to Yivel’s whip, other than saliva freezing on it. Yivel hefted the weapon. “Careful. It will eat through anything it touches,” warned Eris.
“Aye, let’s hope so.” Yivel dragged the three pronged chain whip through the snow. Four of the chains had been destroyed in the first day of fighting against Eberon. Yivel was the General of the Odd Division of Garghent’s military. Although possessing no Aspect himself, his speciality lay in hunting rampant, bestial Specters while training Garghent’s own bestial Specters, such as Abagene and Hijo. His scars portrayed the sorts of creature’s he’d encountered, permanent reminders of his success.
“You will not unsaddle me.” Eberon echoed his statement from that first day of fighting.
Yivel cracked his whip as he approached Eberon but before they engaged in combat something happened.
From above them, leaping off of one of Garald’s towers, was the Archer Aspect Elrig, who had secretly made his way to a tower and climbed it, under the noses of everyone.
In mid air, Elrig fired from his bow four other bows, the design of the arrows were made up of prongs on either end of the shaft, meaning when he fired an arrow it could land in the drawstring of another bow and then proceed to shoot itself out.
Directly over Eberon, Elrig fired a volley of five arrows, one from the large main bow and four other from the bows that were shot out. Each bow was aimed at a different target and the main arrow sailed straight into Hijo who let it pierce his hand. One arrow struck Eris’ stomach while another that was aimed for Yivel got cut in half by his whip.
The second volley came right after, the next set of arrows being aimed differently as the orientation of the falling bows shifted. It all happened so fast that only the swiftest and luckiest dodged the volley. Xander naturally dodged and so did Abagene.
Hido could only protect two targets and she prioritized her closest companions, Jillian and Uana. One arrow hit Uana in the chest, all the damage of which was transferred to Hido who gasped in pain.
Jillian was sprinting the whole time and was nearest to Karnev whom she pulled out of the second volley’s way.
A third volley was about to fire until a flying Abagene took Elrig in the air and skewered him with her razor sharp, serrated front appendages. She tore him in half before returning to the ground.
Eberon kicked Oborion into a charge and met Yivel head on amidst the confusion. The Gemini was too slow to stop Eberon and the spectral lance went through Oborion and stuck him to the ground when Eberon had already reached Yivel.
Yivel snapped his whip out, expecting Eberon to block the first strike.
Eberon ignored the whip and thrust his sword into Yivel’s chest. The whip drew three slices across Eberon’s armor. It was the first time anything had successfully damaged his nigh impervious defense. It came at the cost of Yivel’s sternum. The flames from the sword in his chest burned his organs and cauterized the wound at the same time. Yivel fell to the snow without so much as bleeding on it.
Hijo attacked Eberon but Oborion turned to spew flames from its nostrils, forcing Hijo away.
Hijo’s transformation reached its apex. Reaching to his back, Hijo grabbed ahold of his own spine and tore out a crude blade from it. With his full wolf’s head of antlers and blade in hand, Hijo howled as he leapt to Eberon. Eberon held his own sword up to block the two-handed strike from Hijo. From behind, Xander let out a powerful punch that knocked Eberon forward, nearly off his saddle, into Hijo who then planted his feet on Oborion as he pinned Eberon’s blade against his own.
But Eberon still had a free hand. He punched Hijo in the gut to no effect. Hido absorbed the blow. Oborion would have bucked but the Gemini kept the pressure on by trapping the horse in spectral lances.
Karnev’s terracotta soldier, who was already reduced to half its original size, fired another shot at Eberon. Xander was about to grab Eberon when his Good Karma suddenly exhausted. Escaping so many death blows, especially from someone of Eberon’s caliber, used up a year’s worth of Good Karma and Xander’s eyes turned a drab blue, indicating his Bad Karma was activated.
Eberon noticed the change. He withdrew his sword from Hijo’s, ignoring the instant bashing from Hijo and turned in his saddle.
Xander shot a glance to Hido before Eberon’s sword thrust into his chest, the way it had Yivel’s.
Xander was unharmed, having cheated death but still paying his dues from Bad Karma enough to switch back to Good Karma. “Karma Form, Grand Awakening!” Xander used all his newly found Good Karma to activate this technique which turned him into an infinite being.
His body became bathed in gold liquid and he levitated from the ground. From his palm shot out a golden beam of energy. Hijo jumped out of the way as Eberon was sent flying from his horse.
Xander would have pressed the attack but his Good Karma was already exhausted and he fell down, completely fatigued.
Oborion tried to run to its master but Uana, the Gemini and Kaden kept it contained in a prison of spectral lances, ice and a ring of Firebirds. Karnev put up a wall with his Palisade Aspect and lined the wall with regular, human sized terracotta archers. Oborion settled down, knowing it was trapped without its master.
Jillian checked on Hido while Bria tended to Xander.
Abagene made a pit stop to the bleeding out Eris.
That left Hijo to chase after Eberon.
Eberon shouted his rage. Hijo sprinted by and sent a thrust that was deflected by Eberon. Hijo passed by before Eberon could counter. Hijo made another pass, jumping the rest of the distance. Eberon batted aside Hijo’s attack and grabbed the Wild Aspect by the throat with his offhand.
Over at the dying Eris, Abagene stood right above his body. Her head was tilted sideways in the usual curious insectoid way. Abagene’s mantis eyes were unblinking.
“My Aspect… is still working. The whip… is the only weapon that harmed him.” He spoke meekly. “As long as my saliva is on something, Bodkin will last several minutes.” It was valiant of Eris to cling to life long enough to offer an explanation, something, anything to aid them in their fight against this immortal king.
Abagene lowered to Eris, which must have been a terrifying last view. Especially the unceremonious way Abagene sent her raptorial legs, the two front legs a mantis uses to strike for prey, into Eris’ mouth.
Abagene left behind a mutilated mess but her weapons were now coated with Bodkin. She flew to Eberon who was crushing the life out of a thrashing Hijo.
Abagene stood unmoving within range of Eberon. He felt the presence and instinctively knew what the mantis was doing.
The kill pose. The well-known prayer position of the mantis before it strikes its deadly blitz. It was not something to rush into, as a surprised target was unpredictable in its throes and in squirming could land a lucky strike, one that was often venomous. Much of the mantis instinct remained in control.
Eberon tossed Hijo aside. For whatever reason, the mantis girl believed she was now capable of damaging him. He took the threat series, noticing fresh blood on her serrated blade legs.
Eberon deduced she had torn into her own companion.
Regardless, here she stood, swaying as if gently tugged by the wind. Always in motion, Abagene could spring in whatever direction or angle she needed to. The way of the mantis. Such a standstill could last for minutes. Eberon brought up his sword, taking a neutral stance, with sword poised point first and elbow bent above the shoulder.
Abagene had superior speed and reaction ability while Eberon had the greater strength and wasn’t likely to suffer from a killing blow.
Still, his own mind warned him to be cautious.
A roar came from the distance.
Eberon spoke, never losing eye contact. “That would be your master, Klyle. I was wondering if he would return. I am interested in seeing how this ends. Shall we?”
Abagene swayed but Eberon made the first move. He thrust his sword and prepared for Abagene’s dodge. It didn’t come as expected. Abagene needed only lean back to be out of Eberon’s range from his position.
Eberon realized too late how he’d been fooled and the leaned back Abagene sprang forward, not aiming for the torso or head of Eberon, but the outstretched sword arm. Abagene’s speed beat Eberon’s and he took a moment too long to reset. Abagene skewered the forearm. Eberon grabbed the blade with his other hand but this forearm too was skewered. Abagene flew behind him and spread his arms out while throwing him to the ground.
Eberon cursed his mistake. Had any of these Specters feared him then the sixth King’s ring would have revealed their weaknesses, saw through their ploys. Hindsight acted as potent as any Sage’s ability. When Abagene first landed next to Eberon, when he was crushing Hijo, she stood leaning slightly forward-heavy establishing that as her natural position, the swaying was to confirm that she was in an even stance. The reality was she had plenty of room to back up into, without so much as taking a step, so when Eberon thrust, Abagene needed only sway back naturally before lunging herself forwards, sticking his arms with the Bodkin augmented raptorial legs.
Eberon’s strength, however, still threatened to tear Abagene’s legs off as she struggled to hold him still.
Hijo recovered and took in the situation at once. He rushed to Eberon and planted his own head in the ground, the antlers acting as a lock to keep Eberon’s legs down.
In came Klyle, with the expression of hatred.
Eberon started laughing as he struggled to break free. “You can’t kill me!”
Klyle was terribly silent as he strode to the pinned down figure of Eberon. He moved to Eberon’s head and grabbed hold of the crown.
“This is for Amenais.” Klyle pulled on the crown but his hands could not get a proper grip on the sleek metal.
Eberon struggled with added urgency. Klyle moved his hands to Eberon’s jaw. Klyle sat down and put his feet on Eberon’s shoulder. This would provide leverage. Klyle pulled on Eberon’s head as he pushed with his legs. Abagene and Hijo kept Eberon from moving, allowing all that force to be centered on that critical junction of skull and spine.
Klyle’s muscles strained and even his prodigious strength would not quite beat Eberon’s durability.
That was until Abagene opened her wings and hovered just a meter off the ground, holding up Eberon’s torso just slightly. Klyle adjusted his grip once more and placed his feet on Eberon’s shoulders again. This time when Klyle pulled he twisted Eberon’s neck and in an utterly brutal tearing sound Eberon’s head was ripped off as blood sprayed. Klyle rolled back and stood. Hijo took his antlers out of the ground and Abagene reluctantly freed her legs from Eberon’s forearms.
The body of Eberon twitched once.
And then it slowly stood up. It reached around blindly but grasped at nothing. Klyle, Hijo and Abagene just observed the headless body moving, seemingly harmless.
It walked all the way back to where Oborion was trapped.
The Specters there, bewildered by the turn of events and the oddity of a headless body moving so drab and mechanically, let down their traps and watched too as the body of Eberon mounted Oborion.
The headless king just rode back toward Bast silently, sullenly.