The Soul’s Fortress – Chapter 25 – Second Waves

Glyra knew when she was out of her element. She’d studied scrying magic for most of her life, and that had placed her near the front lines of a battle more than once. Watching brutal struggles from afar had been enlightening and had left her with no desire whatsoever to see one up close.

What one desires however is not always what one receives.

“What happened here?” Jyl said as she burst back into the tent.

“Shadowfolk,” Glyra said. “We were attacked a moment after you left.”

“How?” Jyl asked.

“We think they tracked the resonance from one or more of the observation gnats back to us,” Glyra said.

“I thought we were shielding those?”

“We were, but there’s always going to be some leakage,” Glyra said. “It’s a balance between how much we can see and how quiet we can be while observing.”

“One of them got away,” Lipa’roon said. “And one of them didn’t.”

Her right hand was covered in blood.

Her left hung limply at her side.

“How badly are you hurt?” Jyl asked.

“More than I want to be,” she said. “It feels like he cut my arm off. Check out Kai first though.”

“There’s no need. I’m fine,” Kai said from behind a desk.

“If you’re fine then stand up,” Lipa said.

“I think I’m happier here,” Kai said.

“Let me take a look at her,” Pelay said, moved around the desk to inspect the fallen Faen kit.

“I can’t believe they tricked us like that!” Jyl said, clearly looking for something to smash but refraining due to the general chaos that was already present in the scrying tent.

“I’m not sure that they did,” Glyra said.

“You think they just got lucky?” Jyl asked.

“Or unlucky, depending on how you look at it,” Glyra said.

“Unlucky would have been appearing fifteen seconds sooner when Pelay and I were still here.”

“Not for that one,” Glyra said. “You would have had the option to fight him in a less lethal manner.”

“They probably weren’t expecting serious opposition with us gone,” Jyl said.

“They probably didn’t stop to think what the opposition would be at all,” Glyra said. “The spot that they were hiding in would have been extremely easy to overlook. Our standard sweep would have missed it entirely and a slow search would have given them plenty of time to hear us coming, which they were obviously capable of doing.”

“Even a great defense isn’t perfect though,” Jyl said. “This could have been a contingency plan.”

“If it was, wouldn’t they have had a more significant force to send against us?”

“That’s a good point,” Jyl said. “This could have been a distraction, or an act of panic in response to being discovered.”

“I’m sorry you can’t question this one,” Lipa said, pointing to the corpse and then sitting down as one of the clerics began to inspect her wound.

“You’ve got nothing to apologize for,” Jyl said. “I’m going to have the Queen pin a medal on you for taking that guy down. That took real bravery.”

“I don’t know if it was bravery,” Lipa said. “If I hadn’t been too mad to think straight I might have run away.”

“Hopefully that won’t be a question you’ll ever need to worry about again,” Jyl said.

“It looks like Kai’artha is going to be ok,” Pelay said. “The cuts didn’t hit anything major. We’ll need to knit the flesh together and the muscles will take a bit to heal up, but I think she’ll walk ok again.”

“That’s good because we’ve got to move,” Jyl said.

“I’m not sure that’s a great idea,” Pelay said.

“I know. I also know that staying here is an absolutely horrible idea,” Jyl said.

“Why? Do you think more are coming?” Lipa asked.

“If this was a panicked reaction, the yes, more are coming, because they’ll need to clean up after what happened. If this was a planned reaction, then more are definitely comes. A whole lot more.”

“Why would they keep attacking us though?” Lipa asked. “I mean especially now that you’re back?”

“Because we have proof of their involvement now, hell, we’ve got proof of their existence!” Jyl said, pointing to the blue-skinned corpse that was still laying on the desk.

“I’m sorry,” Lipa said.

“Don’t be. Like I said, you deserve a medal for that. Usually when one of the Shadowfolk takes a fatal wound they teleport away before we can catch them. It makes proving that they were involved in something incredibly difficult. Since they seem to enjoy that kind of anonymity, they’re almost certainly going to try to regain is as fast as they can.”

“But isn’t it too late for that?” Lipa asked. “I mean it’s not like we’re going to forget that we saw them.”

“It’s only going to matter that we saw them if we’re still alive to testify to that fact,” Jyl said. “That’s why we should move as soon as we can. If we can get you back home, the Shadowfolk won’t be able to track you.”

“But what about the rest of you?” Lipa asked.

“Pelay and I can take care of ourselves. Everyone else is going to head back to Highcrest castle. You’ll all be safe there.”

That was when the ground shook, indicating that none of them would reach safety in time.

Glyra had time to step to one side and strike out with the palm of her hand as another Shadowfolk warrior rippled into visibility in front of her.

She managed to lash out with a follow up kick that drove him to his knees, but then backed off as fast as she could.

Being able to sense a second or two into the future gave her some advantages in a fight but she knew from painful sparring experience that knowing a blow was coming and being able to dodge it were not the same things.

More warriors appeared in the room. Easily enough to kill them all.

This was the planned for response in the event that the Shadowfolk observers were discovered. Where the original assassins had struck with speed, the warriors who followed attacked with precision and teamwork.

Jyl and Pelay were a blur of motion, but the Shadowfolk warriors kept them separated while they also protected one another.

Glyra looked for an opening, some distraction she could provide that would allow one of the Guardians to make headway in their battle. There were two main problems with that plan though.

First, Glyra wasn’t enough to a combatant to pose a serious threat to the Shadowfolk warriors. Instead the warriors were able to turn her into a liability by merely moving in her direction.

Pelay was the one who shifted to protect her but Glyra saw that is cost the guardian ground. Instead of falling back from Pelay’s attacks, the Shadowfolk were able to force her to block and defend the attacks that they launched at her and the ones they feinted in Glyra’s direction.

Glyra looked for a place to retreat to, and noticed Adorel, one of her fellow seers being menaced by a pair of their enemies. Jyl came to Adorel’s rescue in much the same fashion as Pelay did for Glyra but there were limits to how well the two could defend their less empowered allies.

The ones in the worst position were Lipa and Kai though.

They were cut off from all aid by the positioning the Shadowfolk warriors had taken. Glyra looked with both her mundane and mystical senses but wasn’t able to find a path to them that didn’t involve being stabbed repeatedly and fatally.

The two Faen kits were helpless, but none of the Shadowfolk were moving against them.

From the damage Lipa had done to the first assassin that assaulted them, Glyra guessed the two could potentially take another one down, but it seemed like the Shadowfolk weren’t leaving them alone and unthreatened out of concern or fear.

As long as the girls didn’t move, the Shadowfolk paid them barely any attention at all.

The position and ferocity of the fighting was only the first major problem however. The second was that the shaking of the ground continued even after the Shadowfolk arrived. Glyra didn’t need future sight to know that something else was coming. Something she didn’t have any desire to meet.

“Get away! Get clear of here!” she screamed.

Everyone could hear her, but the only ones capable of escaping seemed to be the two Pact Knights. Unfortunately they were also the ones with the least interest in doing so.

“We’ve got to get out of here! They’re trying to capture us!”

Screaming wasn’t the best manner of getting an idea across, but from the renewed savagery of Jyl and Pelay’s attacks, Glyra was pretty sure they knew she was right.

With their superior numbers, the Shadowfolk could have been fighting for a win. Or at the very least fighting to inflict casualties. From how they arranged themselves and the kind of openings they were trying to exploit though, it was clear to Glyra that they were trying to herd and contain the seers, and Pact Knights, and Faen kits.

Basically everyone who knew of their existence.

“We need to get a message out,” Glyra yelled over the din. “They can’t win if queen has proof they’re here!”

Of course the only real proof lay splayed over the desk it had fallen on and making it off the battlefield carrying a corpse was just on the inside of impossible.

Glyra didn’t make the impossible happen. Her job was to see what was really there and report on it accurately.

When she looked at the battle, she saw an overwhelming response from the Shadowfolk to being discovered. What they’d done with a simple observation gnat had hit one of the most sensitive nerves the Shadowfolk had.

They were a species that was dedicated to remaining hidden and with a few simple mistakes they’d been dragged into the awareness of the very people they’d been scheming against for over a year.

Glyra felt a twinge of sorrow for them. She knew what the Butcher King had done. She knew how the Shadowfolk had been treated historically. She also knew the sort of deeds they’d done in response though. It was a thorny mess to untangle, and one that could definitely wait until they weren’t threatening her life.

Her shouting didn’t convince the Pact Knights to flee, despite the wisdom in that course of action. It did manage to draw the attention of the Shadowfolk warriors though.

With well practiced efficiency, they split Glyra away from Pelay’s protection. The harder the Queen’s Guardian fought to rescue Glyra though, the more the warriors locked their defenses and relied on sheer mass to push Pelay back.

For Glyra the experience was less pleasant. Two of the warriors turned to her and even with the second and a half of precognition she could summon up, it took all her strength to ward them off.

The situation was an unstable one. Glyra couldn’t mount an effective offense, so there was no chance to reducing the attacks against her, and her endurance was far more limited than her enemies who’d spent their lives training for battle.

Glyra gave ground as quickly as she could. The Shadowfolk were between her and the main opening to the tent, but Glyra’s insight told her that the ties holding rear wall of the tent had come loose thanks to all the shaking around them.

She didn’t want to be the one to flee and tell Queen Alari of what had gone wrong. She wasn’t sure she could even make it off the mountain for one thing, or outrun the Shadowfolk who would pursue her.

As it turned out, that didn’t prove to be an issue though.

Just as Glyra reached the back edge of the tent, an unfathomable roaring filled her ears.

Dust erupted everywhere and Glyra felt herself falling, the others shouting around her as the plummeted down the throat of an enormous multi-mawed worm.


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