Chapter IV: The Turning Tides
Ears, what ears am I using again? Ari frantically thought as she landed atop the rooftop of the Silver Maré.
It was scant, save a table with chairs and a single trapdoor with a ladder leading down into the tavern. The owner of the establishment stood with a few other militia members, waiting for her as she landed.
It’s probably elf ears, I think. I’ll just go with that and see how they react. Ari reasoned as she returned to her mortal form. She received no odd looks, which was a good sign.
“Welcome back,” Ebna said, her hands on her hips, “Any news?”
“Yes, the battle is underway. Everywhere,” Ari said, slightly out of breath as she sat down. Flying the entirety of the Hollow was not an easy feat, especially when channelling magic.
Ebna nodded, her face grim and fist clenched. She had not approved of her post, but it was decided she would be the best person to lead the defense while the other forces retreated through the city. She preferred the front lines to this kind of work, but she knew she would see fighting soon enough.
Her tavern also worked as a place for Ari to rest between her rounds. The Hollow was nowhere near massive, but Ari had to circle it every few minutes to keep an eye out for any change in the tides of battle.
A mug of something cold was handed to her. Its taste was poor, but Ari tossed it back without much thought.
Best I don’t think about it, or else I might spit it out. And I need to stay hydrated and chilled.
“I’m going to circle the Wall and docks twice,” Ari spoke as she rose to her feet again, matter of fact, “I want to help some of the forces this time, so it may take a bit longer.”
The plan already called for outcomes where Ari was unable to return, so it need not be stated.
“Good luck,” Ebna said, “And get a few for me, would ya?”
Ari smiled, then nodded. A moment later, she returned to her owl form and the skies above.
There was a time when Ari did not understand the mortal desire to fly. Now, having lived a mortal life, she understood so many things her brothers and sister could never imagine.
Both for better and for worse.
She scanned the world beneath her on silent wings. The battle had escalated and now was fought on all fronts. The battles were the worst on the Wall, closest to Argent’s location, as predicted.
A part of her longed to stand by his side in this hour, but that was never how they fought. He fought on the front lines, while she fought from afar.
She sighed, which sounded like a soft trill in her owl form. I know my powers are best at range, but it’s still hard.
Ruffling her feathers, she focused back on the task at hand, scanning the area below for any signs of trouble or significant escalation.
So far…no Children, no Sep’tha, no Umbralivants. I am surprised that Lendrig has not sent them. Surely they are the strongest of his forces? Ari thought as she flew over the battle below. It was a stalemate at the time, with the Garrison holding remarkably well against superior forces.
This was likely due to arrogance, but that could shift at a moment’s notice.
Her flight continued past the Wall and towards the coastline. She slowed her flight as she eyed the docks, clicking her beak in dismay.
The militia and crew on the Docks were having a far harder time than the Garrison. They were embattled with Merrow and several of the creatures known as a Maloct, devilish monsters from the Abyss, floating in the harbour. Yet they did not seem interested in engaging the forces on the barricade, instead they were focused upon something in the water.
Getting a closer look, she realized they were focused on a young woman, ducking and dodging past their tentacles. Getting closer, she saw the woman disappear inside a shadow and move faster than the eye could follow, only to appear again a distance away.
Selene? Ari thought, a spike of worry shooting through her veins as the young woman slipped and fell into one of the Maloct’s grasp.
Without thinking, she flew down towards the beasts. Keeping her wings close to her body she focused on cooling the air around her.
Her magic worked differently in this form. It was limited, but faster to use. Ice formed on the tips of her wings as she descended. A few hundred feet above, she slowed her descent to a stop and flapped her wings quickly. She let out a loud cry, hoping to get Selene’s attention.
Ice shards flew from her wings down toward the Maloct. Anything they touched began to freeze.
Two of the three Maloct, including the one holding Selene, panicked and flailed about as ice spread all over their bodies. With them distracted, Selene managed to Shadowstep out of their grasp.
Selene, unharmed, waved her hands up towards Ari, likely in thanks, before returning to the fight. Doubt crept into her mind once more about what Argent told her.
Is Argent right? Can she really be…?
Ari shook her head, preferring not to think about it.
No, Argent would know, besides I have other things to worry about right now.
She returned to her task and left the Docks, continuing her flight along the Wall. Her part in this phase of the plan was twofold, she supported the fighting where possible, but she was also their eyes in the sky. She was supposed to keep reporting back the state of the battle so that a retreat could be organized at a moment’s notice when the tides began to turn.
The Wall was an endless line of constant conflict. It was clear this was the main area of the battle and she was needed here even more than the docks. She kept layering her ice, hoping to freeze more of the enemy, but it never seemed to lessen the oncoming waves. Still, the lines held.
For now, the Wall remained unbroken.
It was then that Ari noticed a change in the North Wind. She could sense something approaching through the air.
So they finally come…
Ari did not need to see them to know what they were. Angling her wings, she turned around, facing the wind and the approaching force.
She flew past the wall to fly over a submerged Lendrigol, water filled the streets as far as she could see.
Flooding his own city, likely to speed his spawn through the city as well as drown our defenses.
In the distant haze, she could see forms take shape as an airborne armada approached. As she drew closer, she counted over a dozen Children beside twenty Umbralivants, which acted as mounts for the Sep’tha.
Ari had been waiting for this moment. It was the main reason she acted as an observer above the battlefield.
She was their line of defense against such a force.
You send so few of your spawn, Lendrig? You underestimate us. Ari landed atop the nearest building. Returning to her mortal form, she turned to face the approaching Sep’tha on their Umbralivants.
As they approached, she felt the winds of the North against her skin. Its power flowed through her as she breathed deeply in its power.
We’re not in your cramped and suffocating tunnels anymore, Magus. Ari thought as she smirked.
Out here, I am free.
Closing her eyes, she began whispering her incantation in a language unknown to mortal races.
The language of her people.
“Frozen winds and frigid ice, I call upon thee. As mine father before, take heed of my command, the Last Daughter calls! Freeze all that stands before me, that nature’s wrath might ever quell those who’ve turned against it!”
As she completed her command, ice spread from her fingertips, freezing all she touched and spreading as her will commanded. The air around them grew still before all at once bending to her command. It spun around them, trapping the Sep’tha and their mounts in a cyclone of air.
Nowhere to escape her wrath.
I don’t believe we ever fought you in that time, Lendrig, but now you will see why the Magus feared us.
As the winds beat against her body and around them, she began to change. She called upon a most primal form of magic. A magic that has moved Ashar for aeons. Her blood, naturally chilled, ran cold. Her visage changed as her skin paled to match the ice forming in her veins. Hair darkened as fiery red turned to midnight blue.
The winds increased in speed and slowly closed in upon them. Water vapour in the air froze into deadly shards that pierced and cut them all. She did not need to look to know their fear. They moved closer together as the vortex closed around them. Where ice cut them, frost began to form as well. The slow burn of frostbite began to take all it touched.
All save Arifrenya, the one they obeyed.
Her eyes opened, burning a vibrant cyan. She looked to the foes before her, once mighty, now shivering wrecks.
Take a good look, Lendrig. I’ll be sure to do the same to you. Wherever you are.
It was time she spoke the final command, to end it.
“The Last Daughter of Winter calls upon thee. Heed mine command, burn away their corruption in frozen flame!”
Where ice had cut and frostbite spread, it now appeared to spark a cyan flame. She heard their screams echo in her mind as they all burned. Lendrig’s voice appeared among them. Within the cold, she took a small satisfaction in that.
The fire burned till naught but frozen ash remained.
She waited until nothing could be heard but the icy winds. Only then did she allow the storm to weaken and dissipate before Arifrenya returned to her owl form.
The rest of her flight was uneventful.
Ari returned to the militia force then, landing before them in her true form.
It was enough to panic the militia members that awaited her. They drew weapons in some meager attempt at defense.
Should she will it, that would not be enough to stop her.
“W-who are you?” Ebna asked, eyes wide.
“It’s me, Ebna,” she said, her voice enough to send a shiver down their spines, “Arifrenya.”
“Oh…” Ebna said, scratching the back of her head, “You look…different.”
“Sorry,” Arifrenya said, staring off towards the walls. She knew her words were muted, but she could not hold on to her humanity in this state. She turned to face Ebna, causing the barkeep to flinch, “I’ve drawn too much upon my power. I am not able to return to my normal self at this time.”
Ebna nodded, swallowing hard.
“Besides, we have more important matters to worry about,” Ari said, eyes returning to the Wall. The distance was greater than mortal eyes could see, but she did not need her eyes.
The North Wind told her all she needed to know.
“W-why?” Ebna asked, still in awe, “What’s going on?”
“Get everyone back to the estate,” Arifrenya said, before turning back to transform again, “Lendrig presses the attack. The Wall will not last much longer.”
Muscles began to ache from hours of constant battle. Hundreds of the Merrow laid dead alongside dozens of the thralls, but still more came.
Argent cut through another Merrow with his shortswords before a thrall nearly crushed him from above. He dodged swiftly, grabbing a trident from a dead Merrow in the process. He stabbed the thrall through the chest.
These things were practically unkillable without excess damage. This blow allowed him safety from the tentacles but did not fell the beast. From behind the thrall, he heard a cry ring out as Braigh brought his hammer down upon its skull.
As the bone gave way to heavy steel, the thrall writhed a moment before collapsing.
For a brief moment, the two were alone in this battlefield. No new threat appeared, giving both a chance to reflect on the battle at large. Looking around, it was a massacre. Countless lay dead from both sides, Umbralivants and Children now flew overhead, having their pick of whatever foes they wanted. Ari could be seen flying across the battlefield, helping fight where she could. Unfortunately, these forces were too great and she could not risk using the full brunt of her power, lest she harm the soldiers below.
The two warriors shared a glance, but there was no time for thanks, as already a Merrow and fish men were upon them from either side of the wall.
They both knew this battle could not continue.
The Wall would fall this day.
In order to continue the defense, they would need to retreat. If anyone was to survive, they would need to call it now.
“Bastion!” Braigh called out, his voice echoing above the din of clashing blades and dying screams, “Sound the retreat!”
Bastion, several feet away, drew a horn from his belt. Its call echoed across the wall, followed by a series of horns repeating the call further and further along the Wall.
The retreat would take time and, since their force was closest to one of the staircases down to the streets below, they would need to stand guard to ensure the path remained open as long as it took.
Unfortunately, there had not been enough time to train the troops in an orderly retreat. Many came with foes at their heels, but Bastion and his men were ready.
They showed their skill and prowess in these moments. It was clear these men, alongside their leader, were superior when compared to other troops on the Wall.
Unfortunately, as more men retreated, the Walls were increasingly overwhelmed. Soon they were all caught up in fighting once more.
Eventually, no more men came.
“We need to retreat!” Bastion cried out, gutting a Merrow beside Argent.
“If we run, we’ll be overwhelmed!” Braigh responded, slamming his hammer into a thrall. Bones cracking as the beast bellowed.
Argent finished the beast with a quick strike to the neck, cleaving head from shoulders.
“He’s right, Karsich,” Argent said, calmly, “You and your men retreat, I’ll stay back and hold them off.”
“ARE YOU A FOOL?!?” Braigh bellowed, “You’re not strong enough to face these hordes.”
“Have you forgotten?” Argent asked,”I have a trick or two up my sleeve that could keep them busy for quite a while.”
Braigh sighed, bashing a Merrow’s torso, sending them flying back and knocking over a number of others, “Of course not! But let’s face it, Argent. That’s an ace in the hole, one that you can’t keep up forever, right?”
Argent did not say anything, instead throwing a trident towards the Merrow Braigh knocked over, skewering them. Braigh was right, his power was great, but it had its limits. It may not yet be time to use it.
“I will remain then,” Bastion said as he blocked a trident strike from hitting one of his men, “I can hold them off long enough for you to get some distance. Then Argent can save his power should the final defense fail.”
“If you’re not leaving, neither am I,” Braigh said stubbornly.
“You must, Captain,” Bastion said, bluntly, “There is no choice. You must retreat with the others.”
“I REFUSE!” Braigh bellowed, his face a boiling red, “I WILL NOT ALLOW ONE OF MY MEN TO DIE IN MY PLACE.”
“SIR!” Bastion shouted over the din of war, “YOU ARE THE SPIRIT OF THE GARRISON. You fought alongside my father and his father before him. If you were to die, so too would we all. I cannot allow that. Please, take the rest of our men out, and get them to the estate. Live on, so our people can have that future.”
Braigh looked as if he were about to say something, then nodded, “Very well, son. I will honour your wish.”
Bastion nodded as well, “It was an honour serving with you, Captain. And Argent! Please…make him keep his word. I do not wish to die in vain.”
Argent bowed his head, “So long as I stand, he will survive this day.”
The young man smiled as relief washing over his features, “Good. May you find safe passage to safer walls, friend.”
Argent nodded, and began organizing the remaining men’s retreat, as Bastion and his men stood their ground and prepared for the end.