Chapter 55 The Walls of Garghent Come Tumbling Down

The north wall

Garald, a defiant behemoth of a man and General of the Siege division, stood as a monument amidst the crashing wave of the horde. Towers erupted from the ground upon the pounding of his mallet. The Coalition soldiers learned to fear his hammer, Babel. The long oak shaft held a head over thirty kilograms heavy. The weight of a large child. The edge of the head, the part that flattens its enemies, was designed with a face of a snarling god, pure with malice in its thunderous eyes and hate in its contorted expression. The last face someone on the opposing end will ever see.

General Garald’s Aspect allowed him to call his hammer down from the skies, following a booming split in the air molecules that puts even lightning to shame.

“Babel!” Garald’s voice echoed despite the constant artillery and gunfire polluting the entire city. Hesitation in the charging enemy made their frontline falter, but spurred on by their leaders the Coalition soldiers threw themselves into the walls of Garghent as they had for the last month. Still the walls held and still the enemy attacked and still Garald sent them running with his mighty hammer of Babel.

The sky cried and Garald felt the wooden handle conform to his grip and the rush of combat thrilled his appetite. His face twisted into a full grin of the finest ecstasy which transformed his heavy features into something demonic. Garald, a man built like a tree trunk, and tall as one too, sprung his two hundred-forty centimeters into action. He leapt from the wall and crashed Babel into the dirt as he landed. A tower grew in the spot a hundred meters high. With another knock from his hammer, the tower of rock and dirt fell forward.

The soldiers tried to scramble out of the way but with so many bodies in the attacking force they had nowhere to run. Hundreds of soldiers were crushed to death. Some retreated back into the trenches that had been dug around Garghent, others charged forward, attempting to collect the reward for Garald’s head.

The routine of assaulting Garald started once more. It had become a daily affair. Scores of soldiers had fallen to either his mallet or his towers. Always he left the walls to bring the fight to the Coalition and always he sent them retreating by nightfall. 

Creating towers and using them for cover while crashing them down and obliterating whole groups of soldiers with a bat of the hammer was Garald’s fighting style.

The Coalition knew killing Garald would be their only way to breach the north wall. It’s why such concentration of weaponry exposed their flanks to the terror of Yivel, the scarred General and his Odd division, the special force of monstrous Specters.

Abagene and Hijo, among the three other beasts consisting of the Odd division, tore into the enemy ranks. Abagene flew out over the wall, fully transformed into a red and pink mantis, a transformation from an orchid mantis. This Metamorphose was smaller than her usual mantis build, but it was faster, and the rigid front legs consisted of smooth blades without any serration. She could soar through the air at neck level and decapitate heads as she zig-zagged around enemy retaliation.

Hijo howled and charged, rearing his antlers and drawing forth a jagged two-handed blade crudely ripped from his spine. Hijo could transform faster into his strongest state now, merely at the prospect of an overwhelming fight. Certainly the millions invading Garghent heightened his power more than most Specters. In general, Specters welcomed the opportunity to grow their Aspects and expand their abilities, even to enjoy the rush of combat. But Hijo, in his Wild Aspect, could only hope more enemies came. Strong enemies and countless scores of more prey to hunt.

Between Garald, Abagene, Hijo and the three other beastlike Specters the north wall held, if but for the moment. The enemy lost lives attacking the walls, but then they had lives to spare.

General Yivel whipped his seven tailed chain up and over his head. It snaked out and removed half the face of an enemy soldier who had hoisted himself over the wall. Ladders, grapples and blasted sections, the Coalition found ways in. They had yet to hold anything permanent but their trenches slowly slithered toward Garghent. They added their own barricades to the trenches and built them sloping downward, away from Garghent to provide cover from the higher vantage point of being on the ramparts. 

The trenches wrapped around the entire city of Garghent like a great serpent coiling inexorably around the metropolis. Chunks and pieces of Garghent’s glorious walls fragmented bit by bit every day. By a month hundreds of gaps opened the path for the Coalition’s army to reach inside the city.

But Garghent did not falter. Not while warriors like Garald and Hijo remained unsatisfied or psychopaths like Abagene lived to torment for misery’s sake.

The Coalition deployed choppers, armed with heavy rockets and armored to withstand return fire. Garghent had recently exhausted most of its own aircraft, harrying the enemy and keeping the skies clear from bombing raids. Garghent was stretched too thin to oppose every single aircraft that crested the horizon.

“Enemy air raid!” A soldier shouted the warning. The call was taken up and shots were aimed upward to little effect. The first chopper released its payload and its rockets crumbled a sizable section of the wall, enough to drive tanks and other land vehicles through. 

General Garald assessed the situation. He used a tower to cover his back and sprinted for the wall. He was surprisingly quick and used a fraction of his strength to create a small tower that he used to propel himself up and onto the ramparts. 

Emilo spotted his General and sprinted along the walls to reach him. They had a plan and a single glance was enough to initiate it. The choppers had to be taken out, bullets didn’t do anything.

Emilo kept sprinting as if he was going to tackle the General, but Garald gave a heft of his hammer and poised it in position. Emilo jumped and clapped his hands together, activating his Aspect. With his breath held and Steelskin on, he became a solid statue of impervious metal.

Garald swung Babel into Emilo and sent the statue man flying into the path of a chopper preparing to unload. It tried to swerve but Emilo went straight through the cockpit and out the tail. The chopper fell to pieces and its entire crew were crushed by Emilo during his passage through it. 

Emilo released his breath and quickly inhaled again, this time transforming into a gargoyle. Still flying from Babel’s drive, Emilo spread his stone wings and flew to the next chopper. 

Garald stood over a spot and pounded his hammer beneath his feet. The tower that erupted from under him carried him to the height of another chopper. The timing was so precise that Garald stood a meter over the chopper. The blades cut through his tower and Garald began to fall, but as he did so, he swung Babel downward and the helicopter practically teleported to the ground, its rockets exploding in a large blast that killed scores of soldiers.

The momentum gained from such force kept Garald suspended in air long enough for Emilo to tear apart his chopper and fly the General down to safety.

Abagene had flown to another chopper and sliced her own door, stalked inside and murdered everyone in it.

Some of the Coalition’s most advanced aircraft had been made into scrap metal within a few minutes. So what a part of the wall had been blasted away and dozens of Garghent soldiers perished? Their Specters were unphased and undaunted. 

The Coalition sent soldiers for the next seventy-two hours nonstop after the failed choppers incident. 

The north wall held.

The west wall.

“Watch them throw their lives at our walls! Would a swarm of ants ever think to bring down a tree?” General Criue, General of the Heavy Weapons division, and overall demolition junkie, observed pointedly and perhaps morbidly, as plenty of lives had been thrown at the walls.

“Well Criue, my mad friend, I have never seen ants attempt to cut down a tree.” General Anteran said with an antagonistic smile. He was dressed exquisitely in the finest suit with gilded lace and a tail that partly covered his holstered revolver as well as his saber, though the latter of which extended far below the suit tail but both his weapons were designed with beautiful and antique patterns made of a blend of gold and silver. It contrasted General Criue’ heavy body armor comically as Criue’s was made plainly to be as utilitarian as possible.

“Exactly! Even ants know their place in a forest.” Criue said, more grim than before.

“I have never seen ants make stumps because trees are vital to their habitat and houses much of their food sources.” Anteran responded, terse and realistic, gazing over the battlements as hundreds of thousands out of the millions of the Coalition’s army marched from their camps to begin the day’s assault.

“Aye, that is true, Anteran. The ants here must have decided the tree was no longer needed.”

Anteran nodded, “They are sending only a fraction of their army at a time. Just enough to whittle away at our walls. Once they fall, the full swarm will invade.”

Before Criue could respond, a brawny soldier with close-cropped hair and a cannon for a right arm saluted.

“Well this tree has some nasty bark!” General Criue laughed and welcomed Magun, the deadliest weapon in his division.

“I think I missed something.” Magun said, grinning back despite himself.

“Oh nothing to worry about tanker, the old bastard was merely jealous that he does not have an Aspect and therefore cannot know the true joys of battle.” Anteran said, his humor getting a curse from Criue.

“I’m going to use it, Anteran.” Criue said, changing tones.

“The Pride of Humanity?” Anteran asked, sensing the seriousness of his fellow General.

“Aye. They are setting it up as we speak.”

“This siege really is that dire?” Magun said, watching the approaching army.

“Is your Aspect ready?” Criue ignored the question.

“Just about.” Magun’s bone and muscle calcifications spread to his feet, completing his preparations. Magun was clad in bone armor, his cannon had a soft glow at the barrel and the organic growth wrapped around his body like an infection. It fused with his skin and spread over, around and through his clothing. In the last few months Criue had put Magun on a grueling training regiment to further develop his Aspect. Magun, part bone and part futuristic soldier, hefted his cannon.

Magun had the honor of firing the first shot upon the enemy, a move to signal the start of the day’s battle.

Magun aimed high, the red from his cannon glowing more intensely. Another upgrade to his Aspect was the control of his cannon’s temperature. He could nuke the inside of his arm and fire off globs of molten slag.

He waited a half minute. Waited for the enemy to pass the trench, waited for the moment of the deadliest opportunity when the density of human bodies could better spread the burning fire of his bone slag.

Magun leaned his head away from his extended arm and let loose his shot. The cannon fired and the recoil made Magun slide a few steps back. The slag launched up and arched downward, much like a trebuchet. Despite the power Magun shot with, the slag was so heavy and large that it required a high trajectory to reach the enemy.

The slag fell and rolled on the ground, bouncing and sending burning shrapnel randomly, decimating a whole line of Coalition soldiers.

Magun prepared another shot and the defenders opened fire. 

General Criue settled into the chair of his Pride of Humanity. A massive anti-troop artillery minigun. The seven barrels were seven meters long and rotated as each shell was released. The seventy-five caliber bullets left craters in the ground and cavities where torsos should be. The Pride of Humanity was a repurposed battleship turret turned mass murderer. 

Criue laughed heartily as he fired indiscriminately on the enemy. 

To the individuals being massacred, hell, to the entire army, a dent.

The defense on the west wall was going smoothly until a series of detonations sundered several dozen sections of the wall. There were now an alarming number of openings into the city and plenty of casualties from the soldiers posted on and around the parts that were destroyed.

The Coalition had someone on the inside plant charges along the west wall. Months of planning came to fruition in order to expose Garghent.

The Coalition made a charge, attempting to capture the west wall and from there the rest of the city. With a means of entry, Garghent had but one choice, to fill the holes with Coalition bodies. 

Magun had survived one of the blasts thanks to the armor his Aspect provided and found himself in one of the gaps when the ringing in his ears and the lights in his eyes stopped.

He wrestled off chunks of rubble and stood, discovering the horde of soldiers in firing distance from him. His Tank took the brunt of the explosion and that was after already being drained from liberal use of his cannon. He didn’t have enough bone to fuel the shots needed to stave off a whole army. 

Magun cursed and braced himself for the assault, focusing on regrowing his armor and cannon. A few shots smashed into his armor but he remained steadfast and ready.

The first few soldiers reached him and Magun let out a shotgun blast from his cannon that sent three soldiers sprawling backwards, shards of bone jutting out from chests, necks and limbs. The next soldier, a bearded man with thick eyebrows, ducked and Magun’s shot sailed on, punching into another. Beardface rushed Magun and swung his rifle to knock Magun’s cannon out of the way. Magun’s shot from that tore into yet another soldier but beardface tackled Magun and the Tank Specter was soon swarmed as Coalition soldiers shot and pried his armor apart. Magun grunted from the blows but managed to prepare another shot. His cannon was pinned to the ground by two soldiers but he fired anyway.

Screams from multiple sources confirmed he had hit more than one enemy. Torn off legs was another indication that he had hit someone.

With the grips on his cannon released, Magun batted the barrel over the nearest soldier’s head and fired off a small shot toward another, which at point blank range still managed to dislodge someone’s face from their skull.

Magun reshaped his armor into spikes and rolled, shook and kicked out at the dog pile that had pinned him. He felt the hands release and the yelps from the assailants, giving him the moment he needed to squirm free. He punched a soldier in the thigh with a spiked hand and used his cannon to fire on another. 

Magun finally got back to his feet but was met with a barrage of gunfire. He was blown off his feet once more and landed down hard. His armor was giving way and with little other choice, fed his armor back into his cannon. He’d have only a moment to fire enough shots to kill everyone before they notice his armor receding.

Magun calmed himself, he was going to take out as many of the enemy as possible before they dispatched him.

“Come on sons of bitches, how many does it take?” He shouted his defiance and the enemy opened fire.

A flash of silver and gold appeared. One soldier dropped dead. Another flash and another dead. The soldiers dropped one by one without ever knowing what hit them.

Only beardface remained. But hundreds more were charging to take this section of the wall. That pattern repeated itself all along the west wall.

Endless streams of Coalition soldiers pouring into the holes of Garghent’s mighty wall.

Anteran whistled. “Quite the beard you’ve got there. A pity to see your life’s work get ruined.” In the same instant Anteran slashed his saber, cutting through the bullet beardface fired and his beard, through skin, neck and bone.

Anteran wiped his blade on the shirt of a corpse and turned to offer Magun a hand. Magun accepted and rose to his feet.

“I owe you one.” Magun said gratefully.

“Yes but neither of us may live long enough to cash in.” Anteran replied, looking at the second wave of enemies and unholstering his flintlock revolver. 

“So they’ve won?” Magun was discouraged but felt his armor regrowing and his cannon swelling.

Anteran gave him a quizzical look, “that was a joke.”

The silver duelist charged, sword in one hand and pistol in the other.

“Electrum.” Anteran’s eyes changed, gold in one and silver in the other.

He met the Coalition and fired the first shot, ripping into the chest of a soldier and penetrating a line of soldiers behind him in collateral damage. The blood that sprayed alchemically transmuted into an alloy of gold and silver, electrum. The electrum expanded and grew inorganically in whatever direction the droplets of blood were travelling before they transformed. The electrum burst out like lance bombs and from one spray of blood several large and long spears spouted out. If these drew more blood from another body it would trigger another spiky lance bomb. In this way, Anteran’s one shot killed hundreds of soldiers before they recognized what was happening and spread far enough away from the nearest electrum infected corpse.

By then Anteran was already moving to other parts of the enemy line and cutting throats with his saber or blasting arteries with his pistol. His work was surgical and his weapons cut through armor and bone satisfyingly, drawing out blood in velvety showers that turned silver-gold as the spikes grew out and pierced nearby troops.

The enemy faltered from the silver duelist’s fury. Magun capitalized on the opening and devastated more Coalition soldiers with cannonball after cannonball.

Criue’s Pride of Humanity turret had survived the wall demolition, though it had been damaged, but that had been the Coalition’s best chance for destroying it and so Criue was left neglected to reign lead on the enemy.

The Coalition soldiers that breached the walls were eventually killed when reinforcements were unable to support them. 

Karnev, the Palisade Aspect that had participated in the Tournament was a resident of Garghent and had been drafted into the military a few months prior. Although initially against joining the military, he had come around when the pay they offered outweighed his employer at the time. Specters received special benefits in circumstances as dire as these. The aristocrats in charge of Garghent knew how to rally Specters for their cause, and they paid handsomely for that kind of motivation.

“Time to earn my weight in loot.” Karnev stood on a surviving piece of battlement and raised his hands.

“Palisade!” He was groaning and shouting as he pushed against the heaviness. Finally his hands were stretched as high as possible and the ground, on the gaps between the broken sections of the wall for a few kilometers in each direction, rose to become new walls.

The gaps were filled in and the enemy soldiers on the inside were cut off from the rest of the army. The proxy walls were only made of the material of the ground and was in no way a permanent defense, but the timing was perfect.

The enemy was losing heart and this was the final turning point of the day.

But Karnev wasn’t done. With hands pressed together first, he spread them apart and called, “Watchmen!”

Raising his hands once more, thousands of clay, dirt and stone people rose from his sections of the wall, molded into archers.

Karnev pointed forward.

“Fire!”

The enemy witnessed a strange darkening. Thousands upon thousands of arrows blanketed the sky. 

There are certain kinds of fear that require visual expression, a different kind of fear that not even guns can induce, for guns are unpredictable but this allows a soldier to adequately prepare mentally or else muster the madness to engage in a gunfight. For arrows, if innumerable in quantity as such they were that day, create a primal sort of terror, the terror that is seen coming without the possibility of evading it.

The Coalition soldiers panicked and retreated, though each soldier knew that arrows were far less deadly than bullets, but regardless, any missile is terrifying, and a missile that can be seen only means that fear has time to build.

The arrows were made of dirt and clay which made for filthy wounds. Most of the soldiers that were hit didn’t receive mortal trauma, though scores still perished from the volleys.

Karnev’s watchmen shot themselves out of existence, using their own bodies as ammunition for the arrows.

The day was won for the defenders, but the wall was exposed and in terms of the siege, it was a loss for Garghent.

The west wall fell.

The south wall

 “General Uana everything is ready on my end.”

“Excellent,” Uana started, her posture perfect in the office chair, “distribute them to the most experienced veterans. I don’t want any mishaps. Explain how they work and to only use them on my command.”

“Yes General!” The aide saluted and excused himself.

With her preparations finalized, Uana could rejoin the defense on the walls. She bore the responsibility of holding the south wall, a task that proved to be more about management than actual strategy. She found herself growing bored but the benefits of performing well would give her standing among the other Generals a significant boost. 

Uana exited the Research division building and her personal escort squad drove her to the wall. The streets were mostly empty but it was obvious that the citizenry were trying their best to pretend life was normal.

Uana didn’t bother herself with looking out the window, it was beneath her. Livestock doesn’t deserve to be seen.

The escort reached the wall and Uana stepped out of the armored car. She climbed the steps to the battlements and there Jillian and Hido greeted her.

“How has it been here?” Uana asked, cutting through the formalities and pleasantries.

“Steady. They’ve been gaining ground and advancing their position but nothing substantial.” Jillian answered. Hido nodded in confirmation.

“So did it work?” Hido asked next.

“The search for a material took close to thirty million dollars. The labcoats tried synthesizing hundreds of different polymers but it turned out spidersilk worked nearly perfectly.” 

“So all last week you’ve been filling them up?”

“We only stopped because they ran out of silk, I could have made more.”

“Still, that must have been pretty exhausting.” Jillian added.

Uana ignored the sentiment.

“Why don’t you ask Bria for more silk?” Hido suggested.

Uana’s expression hardened. “It’s best if the others don’t know. This siege isn’t the only war that will ever be fought.”

“You’re right Uana. No matter what happens, we will always be on your side.” Jillian pledged.

“I know.”

The trio paced along the wall, making their presence known to both ally and enemy alike. To the average observer, the three women were immortal. The secret lay in Hido’s Guardian Aspect which allowed her to transfer damage from up to two targets back to herself. Hido’s own durability was unmatched among her peers. Her body grew stronger each time she survived. For two years her Aspect developed and increased her sustainability. The last month of siege warfare had seen her walk away from tank blasts, machine gun fire, sniper rifles, and even sword and spear strikes when nothing else worked. Trained as a martial artist, Hido refused to use weapons and stuck to hand combat.

Jillian’s Alacrity gave her endless stamina, fighting for days at a time and sending fear into the enemy as stories of her seemingly infinite constitution gave way to folk legends that she was something entirely separate from the world. A spirit of war come to execute her wrath.

Then of course there was Uana. The week of absence had seen an almost desperate attempt from the Coalition to take the wall, knowing she had left the wall temporarily. She had put the attackers through a cold hell. She decided the weather of  the battlefield every day, subzero temperatures, raging blizzards, torrents of icicles, biting winds and sometimes, just to stay cruel and unpredictable, Uana would do nothing. Layered in extra padding, the attackers would overheat with all the adrenaline of battle kicking in. It wasn’t usually life threatening, but it was demoralizing. If enough of them discarded their coats Uana would simply use her Gale Aspect. Either way the fighting conditions were going to be bad on a daily basis. Such a prospect made the entire purpose of the war shaky in the minds of individual soldiers. Taking the south wall would be impossible unless they killed Uana. But they couldn’t kill Uana unless they killed Hido which was easier said than done with the limitless bodyguard that was Jillian.

Uana felt the hate from across the field, from the enemy camp. Millions of people who had seen friends or comrades freeze to death and shattered into piles of tiny pieces. She wasn’t hard to miss. A tall girl dressed in a General’s uniform with the atmosphere around her a frigid fog.

It made her blue lips smile to think of the disdain others kept for her. Whenever the Coalition lost, their disheartened and dejected faces were so priceless that killing them after that almost wasn’t worth it. “They will never win.” Uana whispered.

“Who is that?” Hido said while leaning on the rampart, trying to get a better look. Uana and Jillian followed her gaze and saw in the far distance, a man in some sort of suit standing on a hilly outcrop.

“Ah, so they are ready to get serious.” Uana said, leaning back and smirking.

“Why, who is that?”

“You recognize him?” Asked Jillian and Hido at the same time.

“He is a Specter from the Brother continent. What he is doing with the Coalition is beyond me but his attire gives him away.”

“Whoa, the Brother continent? Long way from home.” Jillian pointed out.

“Who is he?” Hido asked again.

“He is called the Diplomat.”

“Strange name.” Commented Hido, “is he going to talk?”

“No, he is a formidable Coder and his Aspect is Diplomacy.”

“A Coder, that’s pretty worrying, Uana. What can he do?”

“He decides the rules of engagement.”

“Oh.”

The Coalition mustered their troops, ready to begin the day despite the overcast weather. They advanced slowly but confidently. There was little preemptive fighting, a clear indicator that the Coalition had something big planned.

Garghent was tense as word got around the enemy Specter had been identified.

The Diplomat should have been the least of their worries but they didn’t know that the engineers working on undermining the south wall hadn’t all been eradicated. 

Without any warning the walls quaked and the defenders panicked as the ground shook. A kilometer of wall collapsed in the center.

Uana, Hido and Jillian along with scores of soldiers fell as their footing disappeared under them. Hido reacted instantly and sustained the damage of Uana and Jillian. They stood amidst the crumbled debris and waited for the dust and smoke to clear.

The Coalition didn’t capitalize on the undermining, instead they halted their advance and waited for the Diplomat to calmly walk in front of them, hands behind his back, in the field between the defenders and the attackers.

Dressed in the finery of an exquisitely tailored suit, the Diplomat raised a single hand, his manicured fingers cleaned of all dirt despite the filth of the battlefield. His features were dramatic and his face was heavily painted with makeup which served to exaggerate his features into impossible proportions giving him a surreal aesthetic. His high fashion clothes accentuated his long limbs as the Diplomat played out the character of some sort of extraterrestrial being. Beyond the strangeness of his visage lay a calculating strategist hired to take down Garghent.

“Diplomacy!” His voice ranged out, curiously loud enough for everyone to hear while light and musical. 

Though the fighting had not yet begun for the day, neither side was able to shoot, a temporary ceasefire forced by the Diplomat’s Aspect as he decided the rules of battle.  

There shall be no Aspects used for five hours. All fighting must be done with weapons rather than powers. These are the conditions for this battle that I have set, to the victor be glory!”

The Diplomat decreed his ruling and walked back behind the now charging line. 

“Alacrity.” Jillian called.

“It won’t work.” Uana said.

“Alacrity!” Jillian called again.

“How can his power do that?” Hido asked, worried and stressed.

“They are targeting us.” Uana stated coolly. 

“Shit, what are we going to do?” Jillian pulled out her gun.

“Get cover!” Uana warned. The trio retreated back as the Coalition advanced in a wedge, the point aimed directly at General Uana.

Uana found one of her officers, “the timing needs to be right, get ready to relay the signal.”

The officer saluted and checked with the other officers along the defense line. 

The Coalition spearheaded into the destroyed section of the wall. Thousands crossed the border of Garghent and from there the Coalition set up a perimeter line to hold their stake. They brought in tanks, armor, bullet shields and a quarter million more soldiers.

Gunpowder mixed with the clouds and black rain descended down. Garghent was being forced back into buildings and streets. Coalition wanted to establish a permanent presence in the south wall and without Garghent’s Specters and the undermined part of the wall they made more progress in this single day then they had in the entire last month. Progress that could be the beginning of the downfall of Garghent.

That would be true, if it wasn’t for Uana’s strategy to pull back defenders and give ground, displaying a false sense of weakness and vulnerability. All to spring her ambush.

“Now!” Uana signaled.

Of the four thousand Uana had prepared in the last week, a thousand soldiers were chosen to each carry four. They were spread around the defense and kept in the rear. 

Uana had four of her own as well.

They were balloons, filled with Uana’s powerful breath. Each was the size of a fist and were surprisingly cumbersome. Made of a silk polymer compound the skin of the balloon was durable and still elastic. The kind of silk used becomes more malleable at lower temperatures down to a specific threshold. It took a lot of trial and error before the exact amount of breath was measured to the right sized balloon with the correct stretch to allow for a throwable balloon that could burst on impact.

Hundreds of the ice grenades detonated, each unleashing a contained blizzard of freezing air. Those nearest to a balloon when it burst froze on the spot. The entire perimeter so painfully acquired by the Coalition was suddenly covered with snow and sleet not even an hour into the fighting. The temperature was so affected by all the cold air that around the south wall it started hailing as ice mixed with rain. Taken by surprise, the Coalition troops fell into disarray as Garghent capitalized with their own storm of bullets.

They were supposed to attack this day without fear of Specters. With Uana’s grenades, that idea had been curtailed. 

Uana saw the Diplomat on the hill far from the fighting. He spotted her as well. He bowed out of respect for General Uana who so blatantly outplayed him. He cared nothing for the Coalition and their cause, but the loss was a blow to his reputation and that is something he would seek to avenge. The Coalition force inside Garghent was massacred. The rest retreated for the day, cold, wet and bloodied.

“You lost because you are not clever enough.” Uana said to the wind and dirt kicked up by the running enemy.

The south wall fell.

The east wall

“Hunter.”

“Candle.”

“Stiletto.”

“Ribbon.”

“Firebird.”

The five Specters activated their powers. It was the dead of night and the Coalition of the Sister was launching a night raid. 

Jid, Talayia, Bria, Meanu and Kris were with a small contingent of special forces soldiers as well as the top General of Garghent’s military, General Draje. Kris, the Firebird Specter, was another drafted Specter that had participated in the Tournament. 

The other four Specters were Class of the Savant and this counter force had six Specters and two dozen of Garghent’s finest troops, Draje’s personal bodyguard. 

Under normal circumstances a force with this many high priority targets would be foolish in the extreme to send together behind enemy lines.

But they were left with little choice. One of the enemies, single-handedly threatening Gargent’s survival, was the Onager Aspect. A stocky man whose power entailed summoning the ghost of an ancient siege weapon. 

A mythological catapult feared as the personification of destruction by an extinct empire who faced their end thousands of years ago to an invading people who used the machine. It was called the Ultima Thule and it was a massive yet simple catapult. By all accounts, it should have been used by giants rather than humans.

Whether this really was the ghost of that weapon from antiquity or the Aspect merely manifested itself from an unconscious source, influenced by ideas of the past, realities of the present and dreams of the future in an individual is unknown and a question asked for as long as the Aspect is old.

Now wasn’t time for debate though. Garghent needed to stop the astral catapult and to do that they needed to kill the Specter controlling it.

The Onager Specter cut the line for another boulder to be launched from the translucent catapult. The boulder was astral as well, crashing into the wall of Garghent and shattering like glass, but not without leaving a damaging scar. The rope reattached itself as the arm of the catapult lowered itself.

The east wall had been bombarded like this constantly for the last four days. He couldn’t be stopped because he was kilometers away from the actual city, far behind the Coalition’s battle formation. The fact that the catapult was still visible from the walls was a testament to its size, despite not even being entirely physical.

Talayia drew her black dagger and pried it in a section of the rampart. Insurance in case she needed to make an instant escape.

“I still don’t understand how that works.” Jid asked as he finished applying his camouflage face paint, lathering his finger with a squeeze of a tube and spreading it around.

“I can teleport to this black dagger wherever it is as long as I don’t deactivate my Aspect.” Talayia answered, zipping up a black hoodie.

“Yeah but your Aspect is Stiletto, not teleportation.” Jid said.

Talayia shrugged, though the gesture wasn’t visible in the dark. “To be honest I don’t entirely understand it myself.”

Jid stepped close to the dagger to examine it. “I’ve seen it before in my Hunter state and it’s a shadow, I think. Even looking at it now it seems to pervade all vision and light.”

“You think so? I never really noticed that. Always seems like just a black dagger to me.”

General Draje signaled for the group to begin. Leaving out the gate would be too noticeable so the night squad repelled down the wall. 

They waited for the next Onager attack, the soft light given off by the astral boulder could be enough to reveal them. Another crash and a chunk of wall collapsed.

The group moved out, sticking to the dark and staying silent. Subterfuge was Talayia’s specialty, training under General Lillian of the Espionage division. She killed the first guard staying watch in the trench of the Coalition frontline by shooting a dagger out of her palm. She reached him and covered his mouth as he gurgled on his own blood. Another soldier fired a silenced rifle at the moment of a catapult boulder impact. 

The group advanced through the sleeping soldiers and avoided the parts where soldiers stayed awake around campfires. 

With so much ground to cover before reaching the Onager Aspect it was bound to happen that someone would notice the night assassins. A soldier who happened to wake up in the middle of the night to piss collided with a dark form. It was Jid and he cut the groggy man’s throat, but not before the soldier shouted a warning. Sleeping bodies stirred and a precautionary alarm was raised. 

“Group one, stay and create chaos in the camp!” General Draje hacked the order and continued on with the other half of the party. Group one was made up of Meanu, Kris and fourteen of the twenty-four soldiers.

Kris cupped his hands together by interlocking his fingers and blew into the gap at his wrist. During the process he straightened his fingers and his two thumbs were pointed up.

“Phoenix flare!” He opened his hands and a fiery bird rose in the air and cawed as its wings spread out. Blinding light emanated from the phoenix and some nearby tents were set aflame.

Group one took the opportunity to reposition while in the cover of the flash. Soldiers tried shooting the phoenix but the bullets merely passed through the bird.

Though Hales would never find out, after her duel with Kris, the Firebird Aspect had partly based his training on her application of stars. The diversity with which she used her power not only defeated Kris soundly but had propelled her into the finals. Kris had thought he was limited by a simple flaming bird, a weak and predictable Aspect. But Hales made him change his thought process because she could do so much with a star, a ball of fire. Kris realized there were so many types of birds and ways to use fire. He had a eureka moment and from then on honed his Aspect and expanded his creativity. And then everything changed when he met Meanu after being drafted. Oh how it changed!

Meanu snapped her finger and thumb, lighting her thumb on fire with a small green flame. She moved her arm around in a circle and created a ring of fire. Her green flames were unique in that they neither spread nor extinguished and didn’t even radiate heat. They remained wherever they were placed and anything that directly touched them would melt.

Kris breathed to life a bird and sent it in a loop around the green ring of fire. Kris’s firebird was coated in the green flames and he sent it flying randomly in the camp. The impervious green fire allowed the bird to pierce through everything, burning a hole in both man and tent. 

Kris and Meanu had a rare synchronization with their Aspects. Firebird and Candle combined to make what they named Jade Khamsin, the green firestorm.

The Garghent soldiers gave Kris and Meanu cover as they prepared more birds. Within a few minutes Kris had nearly twenty Candle imbued birds, the most he could control without risking being burnt himself. He sent them in every direction before taking a swooping path back to him, only to be sent out again. It was the kind of chaos the second group needed to slip away.

Jid entered the Hunter state and his vision changed to see multiple spectrums of light including infrared and ultraviolet. He could see sound waves as they rippled from a source and see the flow of energy in a person, trees and insects. In this way he could detect the weakness of someone, the amount of light entering an area, the health of living organisms, the forces at play that are unseeable by the naked eye. He spent the last year learning what all the colors, shapes and waves meant.

Jid was also untouchable and unseeable in this state, a phantom that could equally not affect anything so long as he remained in his Hunter. The one downside was his mobility became severely limited. Just walking a few steps required a great deal of effort.

He was in his Hunter when he saw a patrol making rounds from a distance impossible to see in the dark. “Seven soldiers, activated radios and armed with assault weapons.” Jid warned the group.

“Talayia and Bria, take them out.” Draje ordered.

The two sprinted ahead. Bria let loose a myriad of ribbons that draped over the patrolling soldiers. Their flashlights reflected off the cloth and dazzled them, adding to the confusion of being swarmed by ribbons.

They never figured out what happened as Talayia targeted each of the seven soldiers four times and launched twenty-eight stilettos at them from her body. They dropped dead without much fuss.

The group continued on until finally they neared the ghost catapult. The Onager Specter was guarded by a platoon of soldiers. Garghent wouldn’t have a clear line of sight to shoot him.

The catapult was over fifty meters high. Simple design with four wheels, an arm with a bucket and a counterweight attached to a cross section base that holds the arm down. Cut the rope and the contents of the bucket will be launched, crank down the arm and retie the rope to reload it. The Onager Specter did all this with his power as the engine was non-physical.

“Draw out his guard and us Specters will dispatch him.” Draje ordered again. His soldiers saluted, knowing their odds of survival were slim.

His bodyguard distanced themselves and opened fire. The Coalition soldiers reacted which gave Draje, Bria, Jid and Talalyia the opportunity to sneak by.

The Onager Specter loaded another boulder into the arm of the catapult before turning around, arms crossed over his barrel chest.

“Looks like I have some company.” His deep voice nonchalant.

The four Specters emerged from the shadows. The Onager Aspect looked around to see his immediate bodyguards dead with daggers jutting from their lifeless bodies.

“Sortilege.” Draje called his Aspect. A deck of twenty-two cards appeared and began to shuffle on their own, doing riffles and bridges in midair. Meanwhile Talayia and Bria attacked.

The Onager Specter cut the rope for his catapult and the arm lurched up, but before it could even reach halfway, he reset the catapult and the astral boulder in the bucket was lobbed up and slightly backwards. Enough to come crashing down in between him and Talayia and Bria.

Talayia and Bria were forced to back off or else have glass lodged in them. 

Suddenly a series of loud booms came from the wall. Something big was tearing off large portions of the wall.

“I’m going back!” Talayia shouted at once, taking initiative. She disappeared and Draje finally picked a card at random.

XI: Justice

“Sorry Onager, you might not live.” Draje said, his old voice going high as he delighted in excitement. This was one of his favorite cards of the major arcana.

The card burst into light and bathed Draje in glowing magic. After it settled, Draje transformed into a woman who was both blind and mute. Her face was hidden under a black cowl and in her hands was a vicious executioner’s ax.

Justice pointed to the wall. Bria and Jid got the message. Regroup with the others and retreat to the wall.

Jid and Bria sprinted out.

The Onager smiled but his eyes betrayed his fear. Justice took one step and jumped, covering an incredible amount of ground and swinging her ax as she descended. The Onager dove out of the way, scrambled up and called out for help.

Three soldiers came rushing back only to meet their end as a single swipe decapitated them. Justice chased after the stocky man as he darted around his bodyguard, sacrificing their lives so he could escape.

Backed against a tree, with nowhere to run and much of his bodyguard either dead or chasing after the fleeing Garghent force, the Onager Aspect resummoned his catapult under himself.

Justice swung her ax but the Onager Aspect cut the rope and launched himself from the bucket.

He sailed high in the air, away from the city. Justice was about to run after him when she saw him relocate his catapult once more, catching him before he hit the ground and launching once more.

The Onager Aspect had mastered the self-catapulting technique years ago, attaining flight with his Aspect as much as mastering the art of retreat. Justice sensed he wouldn’t be coming back to the siege after this…

Talayia appeared where her dagger had been left. Some distance away was a giant, half submerged in the ground, easily tearing chunks out of the wall they worked so hard to defend. The titan was impervious to the bullets being fired at it and Talayia rushed to help stop the monster.

In the dark she hadn’t noticed, but closer now she could see the titan was purple and atop it, hidden behind its head, was a girl dressed in royal robes and a crown of sparkling amethyst. In her hand was a scepter and this she used to control the titan.

It was Hoiden, the Tyrian Aspect, one of the rare Color classes in the world and a participant of the Tournament. 

Hoiden noticed Talayia’s flying daggers and giggled.

“Give my regards to Xander! Tell him he owes me a rematch!” She shouted before commanding her titan to dig underground. Hoiden’s laughter was drowned out by Talayia’s own cursing.

“Too slow.” She berated herself. They lost a significant portion of the wall. Garghent’s own surprise night raid had been predicted and countered with a blow far more devastating than the havoc they unleashed on the enemy camp that night. 

The east wall fell.