The Provinces of Veterumterrum

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Chapter 32

Defend and Defeat

Azariah Sergens

Some distance away in the heart of the city, Azariah rode passenger on Lord Vanderok’s horse. The horse galloped hard through the tight corners of the urban roads. Azariah kept looking back at the scene she was leaving and noticed countless citizens abandoning their homes and businesses as soldiers and guards attempted to escorted them away from danger. In her mind, she felt self-doubt as to whether she was doing the right thing. She knew she was a capable enough fighter, but was her protection best for the kingdom? She then thought of her friends; Vylasgarden, Riker, and Kruzco and found herself praying that they were surviving the chaos. She was close to the castle now. It was just ahead and Azariah felt her heart jump into her throat. What was she going to say to her family when she saw them? Should she even mention Riker and the others? What good will it do if all they were concerned about was that she was back in their “protection.” She looked up and noticed a cloud of smog flying overhead and Azariah could hear the haunting groans of the Nekodarz coming from it as it passed them heading toward the castle.

Azariah cried out, “Quickly! We must hurry!”

Vylasgarden

Riker, Kruzco, and Vylasgarden struggled fighting against the horde. The mages and soldiers that fought with them filled the gap of the wall that surrounded the city. Every defensive maneuver they made against the enemy was met with overwhelming force; There was just too many of them and the invaders seemed to not lose any stamina whatsoever. The mages combined their power to create a wall of thorns that constructed a barrier. But no matter how heavy the hard wood was, the raging horde met it with powerful strikes that took it down within minutes. Any effort to destroy a corpse proved futile unless it was to the undead’s heart or its skull that housed the embers of its renewed life.

“Their numbers are too great!” Riker shouted. “This isn’t working! We have to try something else!” he casted a linear wave using his flute and it uprooted the earth and blew some of the invaders backwards.

“Retreat!” a halfblooded orc called out as he used his glaive to wedge a coulomb of stone over and into the horde of undead⏤buying them some time. The mages began entangling the rubble with tree roots to provide an obstacle for the enemy.

Vylasgarden turned to all of them and said, “Go to the castle and help barricade as many as you can inside!” Without question, the remaining soldiers into the city as the rubble blocking the invaders’ path began to stir.

“Vylasgarden let’s go!” Riker said to her.

“I’m staying to buy you all more time,” she replied finessing with the baron’s sword.

“Not leave you!” Kruzco insisted.

“My place is here!” Vlyasgarden refuted. “Azariah needs you to help defend⏤”

“Needs all us,” Kruzco interrupted. Vylasgarden looked at the two of them with an expression they had not seen on her before. It was fear and defeat.

“Not a Sarkany,” she said. “Now go! There isn’t time to argue.” As the last of the soldiers disappeared into the city, Riker looked back at Vylasgarden and then back at the city. He sighed and took Kruzco by the arm and pulled him from the fight. Vylasgarden watched them run into the city and a part of her felt relieved. She could not bear seeing anyone else she cared about dying in front of her.

“Fear not lady dragonkin, the myrkalfar mages are by your side,” one of the mages said casting a spell by Vylasgarden’s side. Vylasgarden gave them all a nod and braced herself for what was on the other side of the wall.

“On this day, we are men and women of courage,” she chanted and the mages echoed.

Baron Von Riker

Kruzco and Riker ran through the cobblestone streets and every undead dwarf they came across, they stealthily hacked and stabbed with their weapons. Every other building made of wood or thatch was set on fire and were being raided by the invaders. “There too many,” Kruzco said.

Riker replied, “It doesn’t matter. To stop this, we need to destroy the Nekodarz’s sword.”

“How do that?” Kruzco asked.

“I don’t know,” Riker replied. “Not sure if you noticed Kruzco, but I’m kind of making this up as we go along. Maybe I can conjure enough power to break it to pieces or something,” Riker suggested and Kruzco replied with a tired grunt. “hey, stay sharp.” When they came upon the center of the city, the intersections were full of Flos Sergens civilians. They all were panicking toward the castle as soldiers and guards fought off invaders on the edge of the crowd. Riker spotted Azariah at the top of the steps. She and a team of the royal staff was taking children and babies into the castle as the royal guard sorted people near the entrance into groups allowed inside. “They’re allowing some people inside.”

“Not move fast enough,” Kruzco replied and ran up to fight alongside the soldiers. Riker followed with lyre in hand.

“What do you think you are going to do with that?” one of the soldiers said to Riker as he deflected an invader’s thrown ax with his glaive. A large horde was coming up to them. Riker ignored the soldier as he attempted to cast a spell. This spell was going to be difficult. He had never used it before, in fact, he wasn’t sure if he was skilled enough to cast it. But if there was one thing Baron Von Riker was good at, it was improvisation. He began to play a tune with the lyre and eventually from the complexity of the song, Riker’s fingers began to bleed against the blue metal strings. What followed were wisps of colorful energy radiating from the lyre and hot embers came from the strings. The buildup was so bright and intense that Riker noticed the strings tensing up and beginning to break. Each snap of a string created a burning force that turned every near invader’s tattered armor to molten metal which burned the undead to blistering remains. In the end, the lyre fell to pieces in Riker’s bloodied hands. He looked up and saw the remains which smelled horrid. “Heaven and Phoenix…” the soldier said gazing at the carnage.

“That was what I was going to do with that,” Riker said stumbling past the man to Kruzco.

Kruzco met Riker behind the lines. “You all right?”

“We cannot win this way. I only have my flute to cast spells and we still need to find the Nekodarz.” Riker then noticed a cloud of smog circling the top of the castle. “Kruzco! Look!” he exclaimed pointing at the cloud.

Kruzco asked, “It?”

“Yeah, that’s it. It’s trying to get inside. Come on,” Riker replied abandoning the defense.

“What ’bout people?” Kruzco objected.

“There won’t be a people if we don’t stop it,” Riker explained as he ran near the crowd. As he approached the crowd, the people of Flos Sergens parted way for him. It was either fear or respect that gained him this authority but there wasn’t time for Riker to decide which. “We need to get inside,” Riker said to the royal guard.

“You cannot go in, you are best needed defending the ca⏤”

Riker interrupted the guard and said, “That was all I had. What’s left I need to use to kill that thing,” he pointed to the circling cloud above the castle. “It’s trying to get inside and the longer you keep me here the sooner it can get in and kill the elven monarchy.”

“How? Do you know this?” the guard questioned.

“Listen, either you let us inside or everyone here will be dead before the day is over,” Riker threatened. The guard looked over Riker’s shoulder and notice the next wave of invaders getting closer.

“You better know what you’re doing,” the guard said standing out of the way and Riker and Kruzco ran into the castle leaving the city to fend for itself against the oncoming hordes.

“I hope so too.”

Vylasgarden

Every passing minute, a mage would expel all its power and fall to the rusty blade of an invader. There was no end to the army of undead, Vylasgarden noticed. And as she and her companions grew tired, the undead never ceased coming. “We cannot keep this up,” one of the mages grunted. “We have to retreat there are too many of them.”

“Then go!” Vylasgarden roared back. Her patience had left her and she had embraced a less controlled fighting technique that her teachers discouraged her from using. What she felt now was an animalistic rage; she used her brute strength to through the enemies several meters away. She called out to the mages, “Go! Save yourselves!” The remaining mages retreated behind the wall, leaving Vylasgarden to defend the entrance. She had been bruised and broken but her proficiency in qi was the only thing giving her the strength and stamina to continue fighting this long. The swarm backed her against the wall and she only noticed then that she had been stabbed in her abdomen. The warm red blood glazed over her clawed hand. This is it… she thought. This was how she was going to die. For a kingdom that did not care for her. For people, she either did not know or only knew for a few days. She wondered if her companions would have laid down their lives for her; then the thought of her family flashed in her mind. It brought her peace thinking about them, her husband, and children. Maybe she would see them soon. She suddenly thought it strange that she would want this. Her family surely would not want her to die and despite missing them, she became overwhelmed with guilt. She dug deep to find fight still inside herself. She must see it through, and more importantly, the innocent and defenseless needed her to succeed. Only she could make a difference right then at the wall. She searched for the strength and felt something grow from within.

Vylasgarden roared a mighty roar which, to her surprise, blew the surrounding undead dwarves back like leaves in the wind. As the horde recovered, Vylasgarden stared in disbelief. What was that? She gave another thunderous roar when a second wave came charging. This time a discharge of lightning came from her gapped mouth. By the gods… The lightning bolt from her mouth jolted and burned the trees and the wooden siege weapons nearby. The flesh of the already rawboned dwarves became charred by the electric current, and the brazen armor and weapons of the horde linked the bolt to one another like roots from a tree. What remained were their charred bones and metal. This has never happened before…I wield the power of thunder breathing dragons. A surge invigorated Vylasgarden’s body as she opened her mouth again.

Azariah Sergens

The base floor of the castle was full of citizens peasant and noble alike. Lord Vanderock tried escorting Azariah through the crowd but they soon lost each other and became divided. Once Vanderock was out of sight, Azariah made for one of the castle’s many unguarded secret passages. These halls and tunnels behind the walls were used by the castle’s staff and Azariah knew them well. Living captive here is more useful than I thought, she thought activating the entrance to a hidden servants’ room. Azariah climbed and navigated up four flights of narrow steps in the dark and stopped to enter a familiar room. It was the lounge she and her family gathered in during the winter season when the days were long and cold. She could still smell the cider the servants would bring them from the kitchen. There was a family portrait that hung over the fireplace. Azariah hated it because the smile painted on her face in the picture was false and they managed to veil her sister, Tetra’s face and skin with a fan and long sleeve gloves. Her distain was interrupted by a familiar voice screaming just a few rooms over. “Mother,” she whispered before cautiously exiting the room and into the shadowy corridor. She quietly turned a corner and came upon a grizzly scene. The guards protecting her family were all slaughtered to pieces. They looked as though they were torn apart by some beast of a creature. All twenty of her family’s best guards lied dead and bloodied. Azariah smelled that the blood was fresh. “It’s here.”

She thought she had more time but the Nekodarz must have gotten inside the castle without anyone noticing. It must have snuck up and caught the guards by surprise. Azariah stepped through the bloody floor to the other end of the corridor. She heard the muffled voices of her mother and father crying and speaking on the other end where the double doors to the oratory was ajar. She wielded both of her daggers in hand and slowly pushed the doors open. Inside was her family and the Nekodarz. Her mother and sister held each other against a corner in the room as the Nekodarz dragged her father across the room.

The king plead with the Nekodarz, “Please, don’t do this.” The Nekodarz just groaned and took a step back from the king who lied helplessly on the floor. Only then did it notice Azariah in the doorway. It growled at her and Azariah’s sister called out her name in relief but also in fear.

“Heaven and Phoenix,” her mother said with a hand over her mouth and the other clutching her youngest daughter.

“Azariah?” her father said in disbelief. Tears began to fill his eyes; the same green eyes as Azariah. “Azariah, you should not have come back here,” her cried.

“Everything is going to be okay father,” Azariah assured him stepping into the small room.

The queen shouted, “What are you doing? Run! Go get help!”

“No one else can help mother,” Azariah replied. Her voice even as she stared down the monster standing over her father. She gripped her daggers harder.

The Nekodarz roared, reached down, and unsheathed the sword at the king’s side. It dropped the blade before the king. “Pick…it…up,” it grunted.

“Please, no,” The king said shaking his head.

“Pick! It! Up!” the Nekodarz demanded as it grew a meter taller. Its hulking body eclipsed the setting sun from the windows. The king hesitantly reached to pick up the sword and it was then that Azariah took the opportunity for a running attack. She flipped over her father and impaled the Nekodarz with both daggers and managed to topple it. The Nekodarz roared in pain as Azariah jumped off and snatched the sword from her father. She kicked him backward so that she stood between the monster and her father and passed back with the sword at short guard. The Nekodarz pulled the daggers from its body and held its magical great sword at its side.

“Today, you die for good,” Azariah threatened. A clap of thunder struck the air outside. Azariah’s heart was pounding and she knew her family was saying something to her but she was honed on the angry monster in front of her. Azariah knew her sword training may not be enough against it, but she knew that she was the only one that could try. At the very least she can stall long enough for someone to come and help. The Nekodarz growled and advanced toward her when a flash of lightning struck nearby as their blades clashed. The creature’s force was heavy but she was quick; she passed forward and advanced at the Nekodarz. The creature avoided the attack with an empty fade and came back with a lunge that broke Azariah’s blade in half and threw her back. Her father’s elven steel was no match for the bleuthril blade. The Nekodarz began to cackle in a clear voice. Azariah never thought it would be possible but the laughter made it more terrifying as she collected herself from the floor. The Nekodarz came at her with its sword but stopped when the king stepped in its way.

“No! It is me you want,” the king said. The Nekodarz looked at him with its ethereal eyes; it gurgled with glee as it kicked the him down and raised its sword. “Look away. I don’t want you to see this.”

“Father!” Azariah reached out as the Nekodarz brought the blade down where a flying arrow shot the sword out of its hand. Riker and Kruzco had came bursting through the double doors armed with bow and flute.

“Azariah! The sword!” Riker yelled as he slid across the floor and shot a magical wave at the Nekodarz with his flute. The wave shattered all the surrounding windows as Kruzco came up and hacked at the Nekodarz’s legs with his ax. Azariah dove for the sword as the Nekodarz toppled above her and crashed on the floor. Azariah gripped the weapon in her hand, she felt its power pulsing like a heartbeat.

It’s alive? She thought. The Nekodarz reached for her but she used the great sword to cut off its reaching arm, causing the Nekodarz to wail in pain. Its oozing black blood splashed all over her as she slashed the sword across the creature’s chest. Another flash of lightning struck as Azariah recovered.

“We have to destroy the sword!” Riker yelled as he positioned himself to cast another spell. Azariah lifted the sword and with a single hand, she impaled the Nekodarz through the chest. A howl escaped its maw as she drove the blade through the creature and into the wall behind it. She drove the blade to the hilt into its body giving it the opportunity to grapple her. The Nekodarz stared into Azariah’s eyes, its ethereal white eyes turned black as it roared into her face.

Baron Von Riker

“Shoot it!” Riker shouted at Kruzco.

“She in way,” Kruzco shouted back and took his ax and brought down on the Nekodarz’s shoulder where the creature grappled Azariah with its only hand. Kruzco chopped and chopped till all that remained was the Nekodarz’s armless body pinned to the wall with its magic sword.

“Cover your eyes!” Riker yelled as he released a large amount of magical energy from his flute that connected with the Nekodarz’s necromantic sword. The resulting force radiated an immense amount of light that was followed by a force that shook the throne room. When the light dissipated, they saw that the sword and the armless Nekodarz was still intact but Riker’s flute was splintered and broken. The Nekodarz began growing again. It grew to the height of the ceiling as Riker stepped away cautiously.

“Now what?” Kruzco uttered.

“We get out of⏤”

“MOVE!” a voice called from across the room. It was Vylasgarden with a party of guards who came storming in. She ran up, and to Riker’s surprise a bolt of lightning came flying from her mouth. Vylasgarden’s eyes were electrified as the bolt connected through the magical sword into the Nekodarz. Riker and Kruzco assisted with recovering the royal family but Riker could not take his eyes off the spectacle. It was blinding but he could make out Vylasgarden attempting to destroy the weapon. Soon the bleuthril blade splintered and with it the howling Nekodarz shattered into oblivion. Vylasgarden fell over and a pair of guards rushed to her side. Azariah’s mother and sister ran and embraced her as the king went to the broken windows. Riker went to join him and saw that all the invading dwarves had reduced to their previous state of decay as their bodies dropped to the ground.

“She did it.”

“What is she?” the king asked.

“She is Vylasgarden of the Heavenly Province your grace,” Riker said with a smile. “And she just saved your kingdom.” The magical flame that once occupied the undead’s skulls freed itself and rose like embers to the sky.

Kruzco came up to Riker and said, “Phoenix Flame gone.”

“I don’t think we were suppose to get it back,” Riker replied staring out to the dusking sky. “It is where it needs to be. Out of reach from men like us.” He felt a flush of heat purging itself from his body and Riker breathed a great sigh of relief.

“Who are you people?” the king asked.

“Riker looked up at the king and pointed at Vylasgarden who came walking over with the help of a guard, “We’re with her.” He met Azariah’s gaze from across the room. She was smiling at him. “And with her.” Without warning Azariah collapsed on the floor and all rushed over to her.

“Azariah? Are you okay?” her sister cried as the queen held Azariah’s head in her lap.

Azariah’s eyes opened and met her sister’s. “Are you okay?” she asked her.

“Yes.”

Azariah smiled and said, “Then I am okay,” and she reached up and embraced her sister.

“Come,” the king said taking his daughters’ hands and they all made their way to the bottom of the castle. They spent many hours together that night making introductions and sharing stories. Despite feeling exhausted, Riker softly played a lute given to him by the staff during conversation. The elven king and queen seemed both impressed yet disapproving of their adventure; and the entire time Azariah’s little sister stayed by her side braiding her hair or cuddling beside her. They didn’t resemble at all, in fact, her sister’s black skin and purple eyes contrasted her sister and parent’s fair skin and green eyes. Riker tried not to stare, he only focused on his music and the sweet relief that is freedom from obligation. The only thing he was obliged to do was fulfill his promise to Raven.

The air was still putrid by morn from the rotting corpses. They all gathered downstairs to the castle’s front doors. The king insisted that the people needed to meet their saviors. Riker wasn’t going to argue with that. This would be a story worthy of a legendary ballad, that he would of course write. The double doors swung open to people cheering as far as Riker’s eyes could see. “I get use to this,” Kruzco said and Riker slapped him on the back with a smile.

“What happens next?” Vylasgarden asked.

“The world will know your name,” the king said to her. Riker felt a hand slide into his. It was Azariah’s. She and Vylasgarden were joined hand in claw. Riker and Kruzco joined hands and together they raised their arms together.

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