It was early afternoon when the Garians came to meet them. King Theo led the army and Doranand was not too far behind him. She had washed and changed and looked slightly more human. Even though those who had witnessed her transformation still looked on her with godlike awe.
The armies met in the middle of the field and then stopped in front of one another. “We are in accord?” asked King Theo.
“We are in accord.” she replied. He nodded tersely and relaxed. “I have another bit of news to share.” he looked at her curiously. “You are to be a grandfather.” she wasn’t sure how he would receive the news, but she decided to tell him. He had lost two sons and was broken by it. She hoped that he would feel better knowing that his line was still intact.
“You are with child?” he said surprised. She nodded. “So Milos didn’t lie about why he wanted to marry you?”
“Oh he lied then.” she let out a snort. “But it is true now.”
He smiled slightly and shook his head. “I am too young to be a grandfather, but Minerva will be thrilled.” he said finally and Aliana laughed. He joined her and then hugged her fiercely. “Another reason to win this war.” he said as he looked at her face.
“Indeed,” she said. “Shall we,” she said directing him to her pavilion. He nodded and they strode forward. Their personal guards came to flank them.
Doranand stood directly beside the king and Hardling stood beside her. “Princess.” he said in greeting.
“Actually, I am queen now.”
“As it should be.” he said. The rest of the armies looked at each other warily as they met, but no fights started and no arguments came. The men in blue and those in red melded into a single unit.
The air smelled of lamp oils, dirty horses and men. Very faint smells of dinner smoke and sulphur were mixed together. The moon had just begun rising over the horizon and the sky was darkening.
Moriah would be here soon. Aliana didn’t know what to expect, but she knew her role well. She had to go after Milos and try to remove the curse that had breathed life into him.
Her armour was light and her weapons were the sapphire staff. A short sword also hung at her hips should he need it. The horse below her stirred uncomfortably and King Theo had to hold his as it was about to bolt.
Her skin tingled as the static around her grew. He was nearby. “They are coming.” she said to the king.
“Men at arms!” he barked and the command was repeated by the commanders on both sides. There was a shifting of wood and metal and several pikes were now jutting ahead of her.
She saw a green glow coming over the horizon and the earth shook slightly.
“Hold! Keep steady!” said Theo as he could feel his men becoming restless.
The aura of green thickened as the night grew darker and they watched as grotesque forms started to take shape before their eyes.
“What in the world?” she heard Doranand say beside her. “What kind of monsters are those?”
Aliana saw Moriah coming forward on a horse as black as night itself, but much bigger and unnatural. Clouds of dark smoke surrounded the beast and its eyes even from here glowed white. She was dressed in armour the colour of burnt bronze on which stood a matching crown with points which spiralled to a sharp tip.
Beside her was Milos, dressed in clothes as black as his hair, but the aura of green surrounding him was strong. He was on foot, leading an army of stone golems. Each limb was formed by roughhewn granite with torsos of grey steel all held together at the joints by thin veins of green. Their heads were made of hardening lava which opened into pitiless eyes.
There were hundreds of them. A growing swirl of darkness thickened over the armies. This was not a natural cloud, as within the smoke pale faces and limbs were visible. Corvas had said cloud wraiths were scarce, but that was probably because they had been captured by Moriah and turned into Whispers. Their melodious voices were already singing deadly music above us.
The grim were there, their chitinous forms uncovered as the last time I saw them in the Non-Living Plane.
“Ah princess, I see that you and King Theo have reconciled. It is quite touching, two nations fighting as one. But I am afraid that it won’t be so for much longer. Together you fight, together you will die.”
“You will not prevail.” said Theo.
“Oh, great king I am afraid that it is you who will not prevail.” her eyes grew green and a spike shot up out of the earth impaling the king’s mount and then him. Spatters of blood watered the earth as the stony pike split his head in two. The spike grew in length elevating the grizzly sight for all in the army to see.
“Theo!” Aliana screamed, but she knew that he was beyond help. The sight had the intended effect on the army behind her as the men began to drop their spears and scatter.
Doranand, Hardling get the men to hold.” she said. “Running will do them no good.” The cloud of Whispers were on the move, thickening over the men and then dropping down like black drops of rain which caused blood to splatter everywhere.
“Aliana, do something!” said Doranand which jolted her from the horror that had her immobilized. She uncorked the obsidian stone from her staff and dropped it in a special pocket in her armour.
The gem glowed with brightness and her body surged with power. Not all the wraiths had fallen and so she turned on them first. She screamed as she released large jets of red flame into the sky, which incinerated everything in its way. Clouds of ash fell where the Whispers once flew and the others in the crowd after seeing what had happened to their fellows, flew at her.
One was on her back and had started to sing. She rammed the tip of her spear through it and it burst into ashes and melted away. She cast an arch of flames around her and burned the others. Another looked at her in malice, but it didn’t charge as it melted away into blackness.
She turned to Doranand. “Gather the barons and earls get them to control the men. I have to get closer to Milos or this will not end well.” she said. He nodded and then turned away.
She then rode off towards the grim. Pillars of rock suddenly shot up in her path but she dodged each one of them. A large slab of stone suddenly appeared, but the horse was not fast enough, and it collided into it, breaking its neck. She however driven by adrenaline, shot off its back in time and stood on top of the stone. She spotted Moriah and in retaliation, sent a red jet of fire towards her blasting her mount in into piece, but not in time as she jumped off.
She then looked at the grim who were running towards her men. Some of the men prevailed as they sprayed them in Sidna oil and then flung the torches at them. An effective way to kill, but not efficient. She wrapped her flames around an entire group, burning them until the last one crumbled to ash.
She repeated it several times until all the grim and their mounts were gone. She looked around for Moriah, but she had retreated within the ranks of her stone men. “Coward.” whispered Aliana as she looked behind her. The men had begun rallying once more as they moved towards the rock men.
A large ballista of stone and fire flew over her head and blasted large spaces in between the rock men. They crumbled for a few moments, but when Aliana looked closer, they had started to reform and moved forward.
The catapults wouldn’t destroy them but would only serve to slow them down. Those were going to be the main trouble she realised. No matter how many strikes, inanimate objects couldn’t die. While her men would.
She felt him before she saw him. “Milos.” she said turning around.
“No, not Milos princess.” said Moriah before she swiped at her with an earthen club. She ducked out of the way enough to miss her head but it connected in the back of left shoulder, flattening her to the ground. Her shoulder squared off in an unusual manner and it was extremely painful when she tried to move it.
Moriah didn’t wait and was pressing forward. This time to slam the club in her back. She rolled out of the way and grabbed her staff and stood to face her.
“You keep on moving, we will have to fix that.” said the Moriah. As her brown eyes glowed into a swampy green and a tendril of stone locked and climbed around her feet like vines, holding her within their vicelike grip.
“You were always a little upstart thinking that you could overthrow me. So many times you should have died, but it good help is so hard to find these days. It seems like I will have the pleasure of killing you myself Aliana.”
“That is Your Majesty to you.” said Aliana as she shot a stream of fire towards her. She tried to shield herself, but she was too enraptured in making a stone cocoon to move quickly enough. Her torso was mainly spared from the inferno, as her stone wall shielded her.
Aliana by this time had directed the heat towards her feet and the stone tendrils melted along with her metal greaves, leaving her barefooted on the ground.
“You forget one thing Your Majesty,” sneered Moriah. “Earth beats flame every time.” The ground rumbled and three stone men rose and towered over her. “Kill her!” she roared and the three lumbering hunks of stone pounded towards her.
One of them swung and dropped its heavy fist in a place where Aliana just stood. She in turn sent a scarlet blast towards its metal stomach. A whole the size of its head was blown through, but it was not enough to stop it. She fired at the other two but they still advanced as one limb was knocked off, it would just jump back into place as Moriah directed its healing.
This wasn’t working and so she backed away, paying attention only to what was in front of her. She didn’t see it but felt when two arms of granite wrapped around her chest and lifted her from the ground. The giant squeezed and her armour started crumpling around her. Soon it would be too tight for her to even breathe. That was if her ribs didn’t crack first.
“Too much of a coward to fight fairly.” said Aliana.
“I was never one for fair play. Why play fair when you could play smart.” she said as her smirk widened. “Goodbye princess, you have been a nuisance and will truly not be missed.” Aliana tried to fight loose by melting the stone soldier’s arms, but it was not fast enough. “Oh and don’t worry about Milos I will take excellent care of him after you’re gone.”
She turned but didn’t go far as the tip of a sword pushed through her chest another speared through her lower back. Spine severed, she fell to the ground. Huma, flanked by two other men in green cloaks stood in her place.
The bands around her chest lessened as the granite men toppled and blocks of stone rolled away. She landed heavily on her already dislocated arm and her she could sense that several of her ribs were badly bruised. She had seen the wraiths coming up behind Moriah and kept her distracted long enough for them to aid her.
She pushed herself to stand and then with the help of the wraiths pried the breast plate from around herself. She took in deep breath but it hurt like hell. She took shallower breaths to reduce the pain.
She walked over to where Moriah lay down. Dark pools of blood stained the brazen dress and was growing wider by the second. The witch however wasn’t dead as her eyes roamed around and then fell on Huma and the river wraiths.
“You...” she coughed and jet of blood dribbled down her lips.
“You took our lands but now we shall reclaim it.” said Huma.
Moriah coughed once more and then squeezed her eyes shut, “You will never reclaim the Lakelands. None of us will leave this battlefield standing.” she opened her eyes and the muddy irises were charged with green energy.
Huma grabbed her by the waist and he and the others dived out of the way. Aliana let out a few garbled curses as the rough landings continued to batter her ribs. She was very sure that her lower rib, which was just bruised, was now fully fractured as every breath was met with a sharp stick.
The ground around her continued to shake as a violent earthquake was put into motion. “Is she dead?” Aliana ground out as the wraith pulled her to stand.
“Yes, however the quake will set off the volcano under the Landing.” he said looking eastwards.
“But it hasn’t erupted in eons.” said Aliana drawing in another sharp breath. She was about to put forward another argument, but the Landing itself answered as miles away, the night sky was suddenly lit up by a titian explosion of stone and ash. From here she could here gallons of water fizzling into steam, mixing with the sounds of rolling thunder.
“It has started,” said Huma. “The lava flow will get here in about an hour. We need to get the men moving or everything within the Ashlands will be covered and burned.
Though Moriah was dead, the army was still engaged in a thick melee with the rock creatures, who no doubt still being held together by Milos. She hadn’t seen him since the fight started and was probably within the crowd.
“We must find Milos. I have the soulless gem salt and the living mist, when the wraith said that he could be saved do you mean, saved from what he is now? Is it possible...?”
“It is possible,” said Huma but first we have to get to him. You cannot walk fast but we will carry you with your permission Your Majesty.”
“Do what you must.” he took her within his arms and moved towards the camp.