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Technographer Chapter 5

Technographer Chapter 5

The Emperor

“A wizard can possess up to three elements in total, though few achieve this. Most masters stick to using one or two elements in order to become adept at those elements rather than branching out.” - The Use of Natural Elements in Magic, Book I, Chapter IV

The hospital was like a herd of tramping and bellowing buffalo filling the room with ceaseless noise and havoc. Hibernia was caught amidst the constantly shifting mass of mages, buffeted to and fro like a buoy on the tide. The hospital was flooded with patients till there was hardly room to move. Every hospital bed was filled, sometimes with more than one person. Doctors marched purposefully hither and thither, mages parting in front of them like a sea of ants before a foot. The patients made more noise than the rest of the room’s occupants combined, shrieking and wailing as doctors and mages alike did the best they could to subdue their pain and repair their injuries, which ranged from minor burns and split lips, all the way up to mortal wounds and fatal bleeding.

Hibernia was in fierce competition with the noise in the room to attract some attention. Gathering as many of the mages who weren’t injured but merely scared or confused into the corner away from the patients. There wasn’t even a semblance to control and order amongst the ones Hibernia had managed to gather up. Rumours were flying thick and fast. Rumours that the masters had already been defeated in single combat by the invaders, rumours that it was an invading group of technographers numbering possibly as high as a hundred. Others knew this was ludicrous of course, they knew that it was an army of revolting peasants bent on seizing power from their mage masters, just as they had done in Sage not fifteen years earlier. As the troops barked and bickered amongst themselves, Hibernia stood atop a soapbox in order to stand head and shoulders above them, and let out a shout.

“Hey!” she yelled “we’re safe in this hospital. We can wait out this attack with strength in numbers. But there are still a lot of mages out there who are on their own in this hell hole. Now I’m going out there to deal with them” she told the impatient crowd “we need to divide up a workforce to guard the hospital, and a group to search for survivors.” The crowd went silent, four dozen eyes swung round to stare at her, eyes that seemed full of doubt and suspicion. Hibernia fingers twitched anxiously behind her back but she powered through. “Doctor Cornelius told me that he’s fresh out of poultice and ligatures, a group needs to get down to the cellar and collect them.”

The crowd had been lulled into an alert but stunned mass of people listening to her intently, but beneath it there seemed to be a hint of disdain. A breath of disappointment. They were crying out for a leader. They were warriors, trained to fight and unleash overwhelming destruction, but they needed someone who could point them at the target. However, they did not want that leader to be Hibernia, they’d follow anyone bold enough to stand before them except her. How could they obey someone who’s head didn’t reach their chins?

With heads shaking in reluctant dismay they turned on mass away from Hibernia back to their squabbling. Hibernia with teeth set, placed her hands on her hips and let out a domineering bellow, one that emptied her lungs and made her feel like the skin in her throat was peeling off.

“OY!” Hibernia’s voice burst out “did you think I was asking nicely? Six of you are going to get medicinal supplies, four people are going to guard the door, and the rest of you are going to roam the halls to find the survivors! and you're going to do it in the next two minutes.”

“What you gonna do?” a faceless voice shot back demandingly, who was this girl to boss them around like this?

Hibernia seemed to radiate an aura of icy certainty as she replied “I’m going out there alone, I’m going to find the only person left you guys will listen to: Orsino Lavande. And if when I’m out there I happen across an attacker I will personally riddle them with arrows, then ask them what side they’re fighting for.” As Hibernia finished her speech, a cheer finally went up from the awaiting crowd. Nothing gets them into gear like the promise of ultraviolence Hibernia thought grimly to herself as the crowd hurriedly began to divide itself up and rushed to fulfill their posts.

Archmage Crowfang had always tried to instill into his soldiers a sense of warrior pride, the idea that combat was a time of splendor and euphoria. However as Hibernia saw men who seemed little more than glorified pugilists march off to face monsters, she couldn’t help but feel she’d invoked a little of Crowfang’s mantra: Annihilation before Answers, Victory beyond Death.

The endless weight of a human body on Liam’s shoulders built and built every moment he and his companions hurried onwards. Liam wouldn’t dream of calling himself strong in any regard, and it took everything to hold Dom steady on his shoulders. He felt himself carried to the side several times in his flight as Dom threatened to overturn him. Liam grew slower with every step, slowed with more than just the burning pain in his muscles, and in the crook of his back. He was slowed also by the awful sensation of Dom’s blood dripping down his back, with every jolt unleashing more and more blood down his back in a visceral cascade. As Liam’s companion’s drew further and further ahead of him, and Liam was compelled to force himself to move faster and faster despite his burden, till finally fatigue overtook him and he slumped forwards landing heavily on his front, Dom splaying across and pinning him down. The air was driven out of his lungs, rendering him incapable of speech. His allies carried on running ahead unaware that Liam had fallen behind. A pang of self pity sprung out from Liam’s chest as he was left in the dust. All this running for his had left his lungs on fire, his chest rising and falling desperately like a fish on land.

“Guys” Liam croaked between heavy gasps “wait for me” but his voice was too weak, and his allies surged ahead of him, hurrying into the distance till they disappeared. Liam lay there for several long seconds, simply trying to catch his breath and subdue his pounding heart. That Beast still lived and Liam was scared to death that the monster would come blundering out of one of the hallways behind him and snatch him up in it’s razor sharp fangs. Liam began to scramble out from under Dom. The thought of the monster charging down on him whilst he was pinned under Dom’s lifeless body made him spring to life and want more than anything to be on his own two feet again. Liam, fingers pressed firmly against the mortar between the paving stones, and tried to heave himself out from under Dom, but the deadweight was too great for Liam to escape. Before Liam could summon what strength he had left to shift Dom off of him, the sounding of clattering feet reached his ears. His first instinct was relief they noticed I wasn’t there Liam thought they’re coming back for me. Then his blood turned ice cold. The footsteps weren’t coming from where Sam and the others had run off to. Liam’s heart resumed its terrified pounding as the steps drew closer and closer. It’s them, the invaders they’re coming for me! He thought wildly, he pushed up against the floor, trying with all his might to lift himself and Dom up off the floor, but it was no use, terror had stripped him of coordination. The steps were getting so close, just around the nearest corridor! Liam’s whole body tensed up, his eyes clamped shut and muscles tightening up instinctively to defend himself from a predator’s attack. The footsteps suddenly halted mere meters away, leaving a long gap of silence in which Liam waited trembling for the end to come.

“Liam?” Came a gentle but horrified voice, the footsteps broke out again in a furious cascade as the speaker hurried to Liam’s side. The voice broke through the shell of fear that surrounded Liam. He knew that voice, Liam’s eyes snapped open and he looked hurriedly around to see Hibernia crouched over him, a look of intense worry and horror plastered across her face.

“Hibernia” Liam managed to croak before breaking out in a fit of coughing.

“Liam you’re covered in blood! where are you hurt?” Hibernia exclaimed, her voice full of dreadful fear. She quickly rolled Dom off of Liam revealing to her the huge gash that had brought Dom’s life to an end. She quickly scanned Liam for injuries, pressing her hand against his back and feeling for wounds.

“Not my blood” Liam managed to say as he lifted himself up to his knees “I carried Dom as we ran away…” and here he broke out in another fit of coughing. Hibernia wrapped her arms tight around Liam’s neck as she pressed herself against him.

“You're ok” she breathed with relief, to herself or him neither of them knew. After a long moment of silent contact Hibernia drew away and looked Liam in the eye, “we need to get Lavande. He can rally the troops and get us under control. Are you good to walk?” Liam managed- with Hibernia’s help- to get to his feet. Steadying himself on Hibernia’s shoulders he found his footing and at last could take a decent breath of fresh air.

“I can go” Liam assured her feeling he could bear to struggle through the burning in his muscles. With that Liam bent down and took hold of Dom’s body, setting himself up to lift him once again.

“Liam” Hibernia spoke up in a tentatively pitiful voice “he’s… he’s gone. No magic can bring him back.”

Liam turned his head to face her, still crouched down to lift Dom, his face was a mask of tragic resolve “I promised Sam I wouldn’t leave him alone. He has to come back with us, he can’t be left alone here.”

Pain seemed to cross Hibernia’s face as she stepped to his side and drew his hands away from Dom. “Liam there isn’t even enough room in the hospital for the living let alone the dead. We can’t bring him.”

Liam’s hands clenched into fists under Hibernia’s gentle grasp “but-” he began, his voice constricted by a feeling of guilt. “It’s wrong” was all he could manage. After all how could he express the conflict in his heart.

Hibernia wove her fingers with Liam’s and squeezed “this isn’t about doing the right thing now!” she insisted “repentance can come later, right now we just need to live to help the living before he reach out to help the dead!” Liam stared into Hibernia’s eyes mournfully his deep brown eyes filled with something which Hibernia couldn’t quite identify: a feeling that danced between shame and the hopeful desire to run from danger.

“Very well” Liam decided, closing his eyes and casting his face down to the floor “lead on Hibernia.” Hibernia gently tugged on Liam’s arm and drew him forwards, leading him hurriedly down the corridor. She led them into a run, her hand still bound to his.

Igna drew long sharp breaths, her hands raised to defend herself from Scent’s relentless slashes and swipes. Rivers of dried blood clung to her knuckles and wrists like red lichen with roots of pain. Scent’s huge paw came down with a loud thump, he had shifted throughout their fight till he was unrecognisable: his skin was salamander, coated in a mail of porcupine claws. His head was a strange abomination, a swollen skull of something between man and wolf, which had soon after sprouted long bull horns. It was less animal now and more a breathing weapon, impregnable to flame and impossible to strike without a weapon. Now Igna was on her heels as the terrible monster tramped after her, claws swinging savagely, tearing chunks off the stone ground and crushing wooden panels. Igna threw herself out of the way of the attack but she couldn’t escape the wall of shrapnel that was hurled at her. She threw up her arms over her face to shield herself. Dozens of stones struck her some bounding off her robes and arms, others striking her with impacts right to her bones, the sharper shards puncturing into her skin. One piece in particular struck her on the forehead above the eyebrow, splitting the skin open in a long gash that released a stream of blood that trickled into her eye.

“Fuck” Igna swore, scrambling away to hide behind a bookshelf. Igna may have liked a handicap but this was too much, there’s was no way of treating this like a sparring match. Igna reached into a pouch at her side and drew out a pair of fingerless leather gloves, it was time to take this seriously. The knuckles were capped with bronze, and like all of Igna’s clothes the leather was enchanted against fire damage so it didn’t simply burn away when she used her magic. In the past these gloves had proved effective in fights, too effective. These gloves could deliver fatal punches to a normal man’s throat, and a well placed punch could send the recipient to the hospital with bleeding organs. Eric had forbidden her from using them on any normal foe. “But this guy is anything but normal” she reflected as she slipped the gloves on and set them aflame.

Scent had his snout low the ground as he sniffed out the path Igna had taken, he could smell her easily, it was easy to catch her distinctive scent: burnt wood and blood. Weaving between bookshelves her padded on, eyes and ears darting left and right every chance he got. The scent grew stronger and stronger and Scent excitedly began to pick of the pace like a dog after a pheasant. It was then, as the Scent grew to it’s most potent that Scent caught a strong whiff of fire up ahead. Igna leapt out from behind a bookshelf, her palms brought together and glowing with orange flame.

“Path of the Phoenix: Inferno Flap!” Igna shouted, thrusting her palms forwards and unleashing a colossal column of fire at Scent. Scent panicked, throwing himself down and bringing his paws protectively over his snout, clamping his mouth, nose, and eyes shut. Fireproof skin or not he had to shield his vulnerabilities. It was at this moment that Igna charged Scent head-on, her fist pulled back to strike. Igna threw her punch with all her might, powering all the momentum her body could muster into one swing, delivering a terrible blow to Scent’s closed eye. Scent drew his head back and unleashed a terrible roar of pain, his wide maw left gaping. Igna didn’t waste a moment throwing out an arm and releasing a flash of fire straight into the red flesh of Scent’s maw. The screaming only redoubled in ferocity then and Scent struck out savagely with his whole head, aiming to skewer Igna on his bull horns. Igna was more than ready for this however, ducking and rolling beneath the great beast’s head as it swung and coming to her feet as Scent’s skull clashed with the bookshelf, leaving him with a scalp full of splinters and unleashing a cascade of books as The Encyclopedia of Earth Spells Issues II through XIV came crashing down onto his head. Igna brought both her fists around in one last wild blow, Igna delivered a massive bronze capped blow straight to the Beast’s windpipe. The windpipe cartilage bent beneath her blow, sending Scent into wild spasmodic coughs that wracked it’s whole body. The beast began to thrash wildly as it struggled to deal with all the pain it was feeling at once. Slowly, snapping savagely this way and that, the huge monster began to retreat, lumbering back towards where Sight was fighting fiercely against Nathan.

“Thank you gloves” Igna sighed exhaustedly, giving the heated metal a light kiss of gratitude “I look forward to never having to use you again.” Igna had not fared well in that fight, as she sat down on the floor, one eye constantly closed to keep a ceaseless stream of blood from running into her eye, her knuckles were bloody and her forearms were peppered with cuts and welts, and that was without getting into the porcupine spines. These monsters were more than anything she’d ever faced before, no single hardened criminal or trained mage had ever pushed her to the edge of her abilities like this before. Not over yet she reflected tiredly, clambering to her feet with no great deal of enthusiasm. She stepped into gear and began to pace her way back to where Scent had slunk off to. It was time to finish what they had started.

Hugo had a hard time finding his way to the hospital in spite of the instructions Igna had given him, however he found aid in an aging mage who had, politely and rather logically stopped hurrying to the hospital in order to ask what a Technographer was doing inside his castle.

“You say Igna Redhawk sent you to get the doctor...” the man repeated back to Hugo, who nodded along very hurriedly. “...and you’re here on a peacemaking mission from the nearby Sage outpost?”

“Yes” Hugo told him “and please we’re in a hurry here.”

The man stared long and hard at Hugo, rubbing the lock of grey hair at his temple “it seems implausible” the man slowly reasoned “but I suppose Igna might be some who’d trust an old enemy with her own mission. I guess against my better judgement I’m compelled to believe you.”

Wow Hugo thought that was way easier than I was expecting, I guess this Redhawk girl has some reputation. “So can you show me the way to the hospital then?”

The man nodded gesturing for Hugo to follow him as he broke into a brisk jog “I’m on my way there myself, you may accompany me. Although” he added “once we’re there try to stay incognito if you can.”

“Aye Captain” Hugo replied falling into step beside him “or I guess it would be master in Arcania, right?”

The man gave a small smile “only one person calls me master these days, you may call me Orsino.”

He seemed like a nice enough guy Hugo thought to himself as they reached the door to the hospital. It truly was a pity that he’d die within the next two minutes.

Sight had never seen anything like it. Certainly he’d seen comebacks occur but nothing on this scale, Nathan had sprung back after putting on his silly tinted glasses like a new man, he was faster- no. He wasn’t any faster than before, he’d simply switched up his rocket’s to full blast and let them propel his blow. The miraculous thing was he was in control. Even with such intense speed his defense was strong and he wasn’t flying all over the place. Blows from both swords and kicks were coming thick and fast, and without his superhuman vision Sight would certainly be dead by now. Looking behind the glasses Sight could see Nathan’s face set in cold scowl, one that never let up throughout his whole assault, it was as if Nathan wasn’t seeing Sight but rather his worst nemesis. Then as Sight was giving way under the relentless attack he caught of glimpse of something, a light in Nathan’s face, hiding just behind his glasses.

Sight hardly had time to think in the midst of battle, but an idea certainly emerged in his mind: a light? a technology that grants him this power, surely it’s impossible? That was when Nathan landed a jet powered kick straight to Sight’s solar plexus, launching him off his feet and sending him crashing into a bookshelf, and falling onto his back. Sight grunted as the air was driven from him. Sight wasted no time in leaping back to his feet and raising his sword to block Nathan’s as it came bearing down on him. There was so much weight behind his sword that it seemed that Sight’s sword might spring out of his hand and clatter to the floor.

There was a monumental bark as Scent’s enormous frame came lumbering back into view, claws scraping against the floor and blood flooding down his face. Nathan drew his attention away from Sight for a single moment as he stared at Scent’s mashed up face “huh, that girl really did some damage to your attack dog.” When Nathan turned his attention back to Sight he found that Sight had disappeared, running full pelt away from Nathan towards Scent.

“Scent!” Sight yelled as he drew close, “what on earth are you doing here? you should be off killing that mage. Don’t tell me you let her do this to you?” Scent growled fiercely in response, lowering his face to Sight’s as if saying just try me little man.

Nathan rounded on the pair, hurrying towards his two foes with his sword raised. He kept to a safe enough distance, far away from the reach of Scent’s jaws. As Nathan stood there, patiently waiting for the moment to attack the wounded pair, Igna reappeared too, rushing out from the path of crushed bookshelves that Scent had created in his escape. She too came to an abrupt halt when she saw Sight and Scent standing together, knowing full well that she couldn’t face two enemies of their caliber at once, but once she and Nathan spied one another a look passed between them, an assurance that with two of them present they could handle their two foes.

Sight grew wary as he looked back and forth between the mage and the technographer who had begun to march slowly upon them. Scent was fretting too, growling low and staring at Igna with a look a menace but also wariness. “Don’t worry Scent” Sight whispered “as soon as Taste finishes his mission we can escape.” With that Sight turned to face Nathan once again “stay by my side Scent” he warned “we can weather their attack if we work together.” Scent gave a low growl and gently nudged Sight’s shoulder. Though Scent might have been mute in his beast form he still had the intellect to tell his ally that in spite of the approaching enemy he was still there with him.

Now all the enemies were accounted for, the members of the group who had named themselves after the senses were accounted for- bar one. Taste, the embodiment of the undoubtedly weakest and least necessary sense still remained secret. However contrary to his name Taste was by no means the least dangerous of the group, quite the opposite in fact, for out of all his comrades he possessed the most potential to be a lethal weapon. So it was that when Lavande came across Taste he did blanche or run in fear, but instead shook his hand.

Hugo was leaning as discreetly as possible against the wall, trying as hard as he could to cover up his foreign clothes whilst simultaneously edging his way towards the doctor Lavande was talking to in a secretive but authoritative tone. The doctor was transfixed by Lavande as he heard about the fate of his masters, he nodded along obediently perfectly ready to be spirited away from his patients to come to the aid of his poisoned masters. It was at that moment, when the doctor was looking curiously over Lavade’s shoulder at Hugo, who was waving subduedly, that Taste rocked up to Lavande to shake his hand.

At first Hugo thought nothing of the behaviour of this man. It was only when Taste leaned in close to whisper Lavande’s ear that Hugo’s interest, it was when Lavande’s eyes widened and he took a step back that Hugo began to move away from the wall, and was when Taste punched Lavande in the stomach so hard the man was thrown off his feet, droplets of blood flying from his lips, that Hugo leapt forwards with a knife drawn. Taste saw Hugo charging him, and in a split second grabbed Lavande by the scruff of the neck and with one hand threw the appalled doctor a full three meters through the air straight into Hugo’s chest, knocking the wind out of him and sending him crashing to the floor. The mage guards who had stood at the door, were immediately alerted, and within a couple of seconds were bearing down on Taste, summoning magic with which to strike him down. Taste responded quick as lightning by turning on his heel and grabbing the metal frame of the hospital bed, and with a great heave he threw the whole bed, patient and all, at the guards. The bed squashed the guards, pinning them down under the metal and feather mass. The patients and doctors all scrambled wildly away from the attacker, ducking low and raising up sheets as a futile shield against their enemy. For a long moment Taste stood tall and unopposed above the huddling masses, with all those fit to fight scattered by Hibernia throughout the castle, they had no one to guard them against a spy sent into their midst.

“There is nothing to fear” said Taste raising his palms as if signalling them to stay down, “I have no desire to harm any of you, simply allow me to take care of your master and I will let all of you live.” The mages were cowed into silence, none daring to move or speak. Then like a white bullet Hugo hurtled into battle, lashing out with his boot to slam into Taste chest. Taste deflected the leg with one hand, smacking Hugo on the ankle and leaving him off balance. “Ah so you are a Technographer” Taste exclaimed, seeming only somewhat surprised. Hugo lashed out with his right arm, ignoring the immense pain in his arm as he plunged a knife at Taste’s throat. Once again his attack was deftly stopped, this time with Taste barely looking. “My mistress didn’t anticipate the Technographers’ presence to have extended this far. You any allies may have must be the reason that our plan has failed.”

“Too right” Hugo growled, wrapping his hands around Taste’s wrist and activating the electrodes in his palm, blasting thousands of volts into his wrist. Taste’s whole body screwed up in spasms, his face torn up with pain. Taste yanked his arm back hard enough that it felt like Hugo’s wrist might pop out of it’s socket, Hugo worked through the sensation of pain He’d hit his opponent with lightning, now he had to hit him with thunder. Hugo leapt himself forwards at his foe, tucking his legs until he was like a human cannon ball, with feet pressed against Taste’s chest. For a single moment Hugo remained totally still against Taste’s chest, then Hugo sent all the power he could to his boots. Electricity sparked around the soles of his boots and blue light flashed out as with a terrific BOOM intense kinetic force exploded out of his boots, slamming straight into Taste’s chest and sending him crashing into the wall like a ragdoll struck by the palm of a leviathan. Taste hit the wall straight on, his head hitting the wall with the crack of slitting bone. Hugo was thrown off just as hard by the impact, and he was sent flying backwards, spinning head over heels like a gymnast. As he neared the walls the geotropic sensors in his boots kicked in, dragging him towards the wall even faster so he landed feet first and let the shock dampeners in his boots take the impact for him. “Making trouble for mages was my job you know” he sighed as he eased off the static in his boots, letting himself slide down from the wall to the ground.

The mages did not look any more happy to have Hugo around than Taste, in fact a fair few had taken up looks of disgust at their rescuer, how dare he try to rescue them? I shouldn’t act surprised Hugo thought as he clutched at the wounds in his arms I was equally surprised to be rescued by a mage today, twice!

“You’ve got a mean kick Technographer, I’ve known pack horses who were friendlier than you” came a voice from the direction of Taste’s lifeless body. To Hugo’s disbelieving horror Taste was on his feet, raising a glass vial to his lips and drinking it. Hugo’s eyes darted to the spot behind Taste where he’d struck the wall, sure enough there was a bloodstain there, a red splat where taste had cracked his skull. “Confused, you shouldn’t be you’ve surely come across people like me before. People who are better. People who are manufactured.”

Hugo’s eyebrows furrowed “I’m sorry this isn’t my native tongue, and you just said something impossible, did you say manufactured?”

“It’s not your business to know what he is” spoke up Lavande in a stern voice as he clambered slowly to his feet “It’s up to me to put him down.” Lavande took a step in front of Hugo and turned to the hiding doctors “doctors, get your patients out of here as quick as you can, this place won’t be safe for much longer. Hugo my boy” he called over to Hugo “get Dr Cornelius to the masters at this very instant, too much time has been wasted already!”

Hugo followed through on his orders with doubtful haste, grabbing a stunned by the doctor by the arm and hoisting him to his feet “Orsino are you sure…”

“Get out now! You’ve done more to help already than you had any motive to, I may not be a master but this is still my coven and I will defend it to my last breath.” He raised his fingers to his shoulders to drop his coat to the floor, but when his fingers brushed against the strap of his bag he stopped, unhooked the bag and threw it to Hugo “take this, give it to Igna. It may be of interest to her in the future.”

Hugo nodded and slung the bag over his shoulder “I will” he pledged, “good luck Orsino.” With that Hugo hurried from the room dragging a very confused doctor behind him.

Scent made no move to stop Hugo as he and the doctor rushed from the room, in fact he waited patiently as the doctors herded their patients out of the room, lifting and dragging those who couldn’t walk, in sheets. Only when Lavande and Scent were left in the room alone together did either of them make a move. Lavande extended his arms and raised them to waist height.

“Howl of thunder and roar of wind” he intoned “right arm of the thunder hawk, left arm of the wind gull, become my wings and claws.” Yellow bolts of electricity coursed like vines around Orsino’s right arm, collecting round his fingers and forming into claws, bolts of lightning leapt from his shoulder blade to the ground, crackling maliciously. On his left arm dust particles danced round his wrist and fingers, whirling and swirling into savage claws, a gust of air emitting from his shoulder blade formed into a great invisible wing that thrashed and roared as it turned the still air into a storm. Taste reached slowly into his pocket, and drew out a large and clunky watch, which he inspected quickly, before stowing it back into his cloak.

“shit” he cursed “no time to waste then” and with that Taste turned on his heel and hurled himself through the closed window, smashing the glass and plummeting towards the ground three floors below.

Lavande stood still, head cocked to the side is confusion “what in the world?” he wondered, moving cautiously forwards towards the window. To jump from this height would be insanity, surely it must be insanity or some trick. Lavande was sure that when he looked through the shattered window he’d find his foe clung to the wall and descending as quick as he could.

Lavande never made it to the window. For it wasn’t insanity that had made Taste jump through the window, it was the desperation that came from looking at his watch and seeing that the bombs he’d planted on the ceiling of the room under the hospital were about to explode in the next several seconds. The explosion blasted the hospital floor to bits, making it swell up till it burst like a bubble of shrapnel, then collapse into a heap of broken stone and bent metal. The tremendous BOOM of the explosion reached everyone in the castle, from Taste in the bush he’d landed in to Eric as he fled from Listen’s lethal attack.

“Sorry old man” Taste muttered as he made his way to his feet, brushing twigs and pines off his clothes “you shouldn’t have had to die.” Then Taste checked his stopwatch again, the finger had passed the point of the explosion but it had kept ticking “and I’m sorry about what’s going to happen to your castle.”

In perfect cannon the explosions tore through the castle, first blasting apart the largest store cupboard obliterating over a years worth of supplies, as well as the majority of the keeps weapons, killing the four mages who’d hidden there, the next demolishing the water pipes and flooding the dungeons. The third bomb mercifully did not detonate, sparing the flower corp library from being drenched in flame, but the fourth and final exploded right at the top of the great door, burst the huge door open in a shower of burning wood.

As Hugo ran from the hospital the explosion roared out behind him and the doctor, the shock staggering both of them and threatening to overthrow their balance.

The doctor halted, turning back towards the hospital in horror. “Was that a bomb?” he asked.

Hugo stopped in his tracks too, but kept a firm grip on the doctor’s sleeve. “We have to hurry, keep going.”

The doctor persisted, shaking off Hugo’s hand fretfully “is Lavande safe? he stayed behind.”

Hugo grabbed the doctor’s arm and yanked him back on track, dragging him away from hospital “he stayed behind to keep the wounded safe and so you could help the masters, don’t you dare squander that wish.”

The doctor fought back, digging in his heels and resolutely refusing to proceed “if Lavande needs our help then we have no choice but to go help him. I’m a doctor it’s in my pledge.”

Hugo’s hand shot out and violently grasped the doctor by the front of his coat, pulling him close and getting up close to his face, “listen, you’re a doctor” Hugo hissed “the fates you hold in your hand aren’t just your own. You die, then all the masters die, followed by countless others no doubt. So if want to ‘do no harm’ then I’m sorry but harm has already been done, now try your best not to make it worst.” With that Hugo scooped up the terrified doctor and with considerable effort threw him over his shoulder. “We can’t afford to waste time” Hugo told the astounded doctor “so you give me directions and I’ll get us there quick as lightning.”

The battle for Crowfang Keep had reached it’s crescendo, and all its defenders were completely thrown off by the colossal explosions. Liam and Hibernia were thrown off their feet by an explosion under their feet which lifted up their feet and sent them tumbling into a clumsy pile on the floor. At the first sign of the explosions Scent had turned his feet to hooves and galloped off at full pelt with Sight clinging desperately to his back, Nathan and Igna fruitlessly chasing after them all the way pleting their retreating enemies with as many curse words as they could. Eric’s wild and brutal fight against Listen was cut short as at the first sound of an explosion released a tremendously powerful blast at Eric and vanished before the dust settled.

Eric slumped forwards, his breathing thick and heavy, propping himself up on his sword as he did his very best to remain standing. His desperate fight with Listen had left him completely drained of both physically and mentally. The speed and dexterity required to keep up with Listen had taken everything he had, and now that he’d come to a halt and reflexes were still jittery, starting at every sound. Gradually Eric got himself under control, and after finding he was stable enough to walk on his own two feet began to explore the damage the attackers had done to his keep.

It way over an hour for any kind of order to be brought to Crowfang Keep. When all was said and done there were only forty nine able bodied persons left standing, the rest were in between death and incapacitation. Eric took a head count of those who were left standing: himself and Igna had found each other again, Hibernia was sat against a wall with a collapsed Liam leaning on her shoulder, the Technographers had rejoined each other and after a flurry of salutes and handshakes had fallen in together, relaxed but also aware of the many venomous looks they were getting from the mages.

Of the rest of mages less than half were warriors, the rest being members of the Flower Corp. Notably there was a group of young men who were hanging nearby to Eric. In their number was Samuel, who’d overcome his despair at losing Dom, instead adopting a look of unbridled fury and contempt. He and his friends were talking in dark, hushed tones amongst themselves.

Lastly there was the only other remaining master, Hortus. He was looking older and more haggard than ever, dark circles appearing under his eyes, and a warm blanket was wrapped around him. He seemed to be eying the Technographers closely, in particular the blond man who had borne the doctor to him on his back.

As some form of peace began to settle into the assembled masses, Eric sidled close to Igna and whispered to her discreetly “releasing the prisoners? really?”

Igna glanced his way and shrugged “it was a calculated risk.”

“What was the calculation?” Eric wondered “whether the enemy would kill them before they turned on us?”

“Whether they cared about their captured comrade, turns out they’re not totally heartless, eh” Igna suggested, giving Eric a light nudge. Eric didn’t respond, at least not audibly Igna could see, however, a slight twitch in his jaw where he’d clenched his teeth together.

Behind them Master Hortus rose shakily to his feet, and coughed loudly, drawing all attention to him. “All but two of our masters” Hortus began “are in the grip of death, poisoned by the cowardly attack of our foes. Our Archmage is abroad and unable to protect us, and our dearest mentor and friend Lavande has been killed. And most shamefully of all we were saved by the intervention of previous foes the Technographers.” The last part of his speech was riddled with shame, as if it pained him to admit that the strength of Crowfang Keep had been stretched to the point that they needed any kind of assistance.

At the mention of Lavande’s death Igna lowered her gaze and raised a mesh of fingers over her eyes. Silently Eric took a half step to the side, and place a hand on Igna’s elbow.

“We’ll get back at them” he whispered “I promise.” Igna didn’t reply, she just stood still and let Eric stay by her side.

Hortus continued his speech, seemingly gaining strength and momentum with every moment “I have had time to think on what are next action should be” he told them, a cold anger swelling in his voice “I thought upon what Archmage Crowfang would do in my stead, I thought on what my fellow masters, and our deceased companions would want us to do”

Isabel turned her face to Nathan’s, a look of dismal dissatisfaction crossing over her face as if saying here we go.

Hortus stamped his foot, the sound echoing out throughout the silent halls “we will hunt down these rebels, and we make them pay for their crimes! And we will make them pay in blood! Annihilation before Answers, Victory beyond Death!” The shout rang out loud and clear, and was soon joined by the crowd’s chorus:

“Annihilation before Answers, Victory beyond Death!”

Hugo looked around at the bellowing crowd disdainfully, “that’s their motto? It reeks of a chant of hatred and mindless slaughter.”

Nathan nodded grimly “I imagine that’s precisely what it is. No wonder when you consider what we know of Hardy Crowfang himself, it is his own mantra after all.”

Hibernia, who had overheard the Technographers’ murmured chatter, was struck by the instinct to alert all the others to the shaming they were giving Archmage Crowfang. But she stopped herself, marvelled by how her mind had instantly tried to cast out the foreigners in spite of her own misgivings regarding the warrior chant.

“We must set out at once” Hortus barked, his voice full of ardent passion “create a band consisting of every healthy mage available and set them on the trail of these traitors.”

“Hold on!” Rang out a foreign voice. Isabel had strode forwards, arms raised and waving “that’s ludicrous, you can’t send out all of your mages!”

Hortus and a great many of the mages present stared daggers at her. “Oh so the enemy longs to give us advice? Why should we listen to someone who seeks to destroy us and our keep?” The crowd jeered then, an ugly expression of distrust and outrage.

Isabel stared Hortus down even through the bombardment of shouts and jeers. “The only one who wants the keep destroyed is you clearly. You would leave your keep defenceless? You would leave your sick unattended? That is foolhardy.”

It was difficult to disagreement with that argument, but Hortus was certainly going to try. “So what would you have us do? Lie down and let these rebels strike us? Remain passive and weak in the eyes of the other covens?”

“Let another coven handle it” insisted Isabel “the Royal Guard, or even the Technographers! Let it be a sign of good faith between our nations.”

“Aha!” Exclaimed Hortus excitedly as if he’d had his eureka moment “at last the truth comes out, you wish to gain favour within our nation by castrating our coven!”

“Enough!” Eric roared “you both shame your nations with your squabbles! Every moment we spend here our foes elude us further. I will not allow those who have murdered our companions to slip away into shadows for the sake of pride.” Eric breathed deeply, regaining his calm composure. “She is right, we can’t take all our mages and leave ourselves defenceless. The group we send we will be a group of Crowfang elite, seven souls were enough to ward off the invasion, fourteen will be enough to crush them.”

There was a rumbling of agreement to this, particularly from Samuel’s group of friends. They wanted the satisfaction of defeating the rebels to belong to them, and them alone.

“However” Eric continued “Hortus is right about one thing. However grand the rebels plans may be, whether they plan to kill the king or end the world, one thing is for certain. Right now this is Crowfang Keep’s grudge and no one else’s. We will be the one’s to hunt them down.”

Another cheer, louder this time, went up at this. But it was interrupted by Nathan scoffing.

“You're not the only one who has a score to settle. You weren’t thinking of hosting this party without us three were you?”

Eric exchanged a long look with Nathan. The man, it seemed to Eric, was a great deal like him. He had found a purpose, and he had a thirst to have it completed. He had the same look in his eyes: a relentless hunger to something crucial, something final.

“I wouldn’t dream of it” Eric replied curtly, breaking eye contact and turning to Hortus “if that’s fine by you.”

Hortus shrugged “so long as it is merely those three. I don’t want other foreigners hogging the glory.”

When Liam awoke it was not where he had fallen asleep. He distinctly remembered consciousness finally succumbing to him as sat by Hibernia’s side at the cracked wall of the dining hall. But now he was nestled in a makeshift cot of blankets and sacks, an improvised bed for the sick and injured following the calamity.

As Liam blearily rose to a sitting position, he gradually became aware of a high pitched, rough grating sound. No more than a couple of feet away from Liam, Nathan was perched on a wooden crate, methodically sharpening the edge of his sword. Stroke by stroke he was running his rough paper up and down the curve of the blade, creating that weak and screeching noise.

Nathan noticed Liam’s stirring figure “sorry I woke you” he apologised, breaking off from his repairs. “I tried to find somewhere private to do maintenance, but everywhere I go I just find more hospital beds.”

“Maintenance?” Liam wondered. As he began to pay closer attention he realised that Nathan wasn’t dressed in armour but rather the thin woolen clothes that one might wear under armour. Nathan’s Pégase jets and armour plating was arranged in neat piles in front of him, all polished and oiled with militaristic efficiency.

“Gotta keep the gear in shape” Nathan told him, with the practised air of someone repeating something they’d been told a thousand times “you let the jets fall to pieces you could lose a leg, then your life.”

Perhaps it was recovering from unconsciousness, or not having truly recovered from magical exhaustion yet, but to Liam his first real encounter with a Technographer was going fairly well. Nathan seemed fairly friendly, and he certainly hadn’t renounced magic, as Liam had been assured all Technographers would.

“Where is everyone?” Liam asked then, by which he really meant: where are Hibernia and Igna?

“Everyone- all the mages that is- who can fight are in the entrance hall being briefed on the mission. They'll be heading off as soon as they’re prepped to go.”

Alarmed, Liam began to scrabble to his feet, desperately crying to gather his wits and head off to the entrance hall. “I’ve gotta go with them!” He blurted out.

“Oh yeah that girl you were leaning on earlier?” Nathan guessed, reaching out and grabbing Liam by the ankle “she’s going, but you certainly aren’t.”

Liam looked at him in shock and alarm “why not? I got to go…”

“I’m not going to stop you.” Nathan told the startled young man “but I am going to offer a piece of advice. Girls aren’t impressed by people dying for them. If you go out there and die because you're clearly not in a fit state to fight. You’re not a hero. You’re an idiot.” With that Nathan released Liam’s ankle.

Dazed and hesitant Liam made his way away from Nathan, first slowly then breaking into a strut.

“But then again” Nathan muttered to himself as he began to sharpen his sword again “sometimes it’s better to live as a fool with the one’s you love.”

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