Chapter VI: The Final Defense
Selene sat a few feet from the main gate of the Governor’s estate, catching her breath. The run back once the retreat began was chaotic. It was an endless run intermixed with ducking through random alleyways or over carefully placed traps. Still, everyone made it back.
Except Evander… Selene shuddered as she remembered the dockmaster’s look of terror as he was run through by the trident of a Merrow.
Rising to her feet, she looked around the area, anxious to see if her friends had made it.
She did not recognize many of the people around her, but it was clear they all looked as tired as she felt. Many were cleaning or caring for wounds, while others appeared to be running about on some errand or another.
All were struggling not to look up.
Selene understood the feeling, the eyes, the tentacles, none of it made their situation any better. The only reason people were still willing to fight was likely thanks to Hamish’s tireless efforts. The fire in the center square still burned brightly and it appeared he had not moved from his post.
Eventually, she found Ari and Argent in the Governor’s quarters, speaking with the Captain of the Wall and Governor, who was now dressed for battle.
Ari’s head turned as soon as she entered the room. Selene flinched as she met Ari’s gaze. Her cyan eyes held an intensity that made Selene strangely uncomfortable.
“Selene, you’re here,” Ari spoke, her voice frosty, “Good. I am glad you are okay.”
Her words did not sound natural.
Selene nodded awkwardly, “Right…so…what’s going on?”
“Matters are grave,” Argent explained, his face grim, “Jezran’s unconscious. He managed to hold them off long enough for an effective retreat, but I fear he will not be ready to help us defend once the enemy reaches us here.”
Selene swallowed, then nodded.
“I have a plan,” Ari declared coldly, “It will not stop them, but it will make it…difficult for all but the most hardy to attack.”
“Yes,” Merus said, “Hopefully, that will be enough.”
Braigh laughed bitterly, “Either way, this is the final fight. We don’t hold them here…it’s over.”
“Then I won’t waste time,” Ari stated, leaving promptly.
As she left the room, Selene turned to Argent, about to ask what’s going on with Ari.
Until her eyes fell on the strange armour the warrior now wore.
Made of a metal she did not recognize, it gleamed as if moonlight danced beneath its surface. Clinging to his frame, it appeared remarkably light, yet stronger than any armour she had seen.
“Uhhh…” Selene mumbled, dumbfounded, “You look like you just came out of a storybook.”
Argent smirked, but passed by her without saying anything.
Sighing, Selene followed the rest of them as they took the stairs to the top of the estate. They passed the arcane circle and approached the edge of the roof. From their vantage point, they could see the devastation. Smoke still rose from the city streets as fires continued to burn. Meanwhile, Children and Umbralivants could be seen through the haze, approaching the estate’s wall.
Ari stood atop the wall on the roof, arms outstretched. Her skin visibly paled as the air around her began to freeze, as if the ice she commanded now froze her both inside and out.
With a great booming voice, Ari spoke her incantations. At least, that was what Selene assumed it to be. It sounded as if a maelstrom shot from her throat. The sounds that came out were of wind and rain, mixed with words that sent chills down Selene’s spine, though she did not know their meaning.
A wall of ice and wind began to churn around the estate’s walls. It obscured the world around them.
Ari then turned to face them.
Selene gasped, the woman before her now appeared nothing like Ari. Like the time she fought Lendrig, Ari’s appearance had changed completely. Her hair had darkened from auburn red to a shade of midnight. Brown eyes now burned cyan. Her attire, once designed for travel, now appeared regal. Her dress was now a gown of icy blue and snow-swept white.
In this moment, Ari appeared neither elf or human. She was winter incarnate.
She spoke, her words calm and measured, “This will delay their advance, but I will need to remain here. The North Wind knows neither ally nor foe, so I must keep it turned outward.”
Merus nodded, “Thank you, Lady Arifrenya.”
Arifrenya tilted her head slightly, then turned back around.
“I…uh…what?” Selene stammered.
“Explanations can wait,” Argent answered, pulling her away, “She has her job, and we have ours.”
Selene did not struggle, but made sure to add a mental note to the ever growing list of questions she planned to ask once the world was no longer ending.
Braigh and Merus went ahead of them.
“ANYONE ABLE TO FIGHT, GET READY!” Braigh bellowed down the halls, “WE NEED EVERYONE WHO CAN STAND OR PICK UP A SWORD TO FIGHT!”
“If you cannot fight, quickly get down below to the cellar!” Merus added, “Barricade yourselves in, it should be safest there.”
Each floor became a flurry of activity as they descended, some panicked, others readied themselves for the final fight.
Selene followed Argent all the way to the center square, standing beside the bonfire as they waited for Merus and Braigh to catch up. Many of those lounging around now looked around, confused by the change in the sky as the winds swirled above them.
A moment later, the two came through the doors, followed shortly by members of the Militia and Merus’s knights.
“EVERYONE, FORM UP! WE MUST PREPARE!” Braigh shouted.
There was a moment’s flurry as everyone broke from their confusion and leapt to obey the dwarf as he shouted through the lines and made sure everyone stood at the ready.
With a loud crash, the gate to the estate was slammed shut as lines of troops formed up to surround the estate from every side.
“ALRIGHT, EVERYONE! THIS SHALL BE OUR LAST STAND. GET READY, WE NOW FIGHT FOR OUR EXISTENCE!” Braigh shouted from the top of his lungs.
Merus spoke next, and though his voice lacked the booming presence of Braigh, it managed to echo throughout the walls of the estate. “Not only that! We fight for our families and the people we know that cannot fight for themselves! We stand to protect our people to our dying breaths. WILL YOU STAND STRONG!?”
“YES, WE SHALL!” The crowd responded.
“GOOD!” Braigh continued, “WHETHER WE ARE REMEMBERED IN SONG OR FORGOTTEN TO THE AEON, KNOW THIS: ON THIS DAY, AT THIS HOUR, YOU ALL STAND AS HEROES OF THE HOLLOW! FIGHT AND DIE WELL, BROTHERS AND SISTERS!”
A clamour rang out in response. Selene, whether by Hamish’s channelling or the fervour in their words, let out a great shout as she stood beside Argent with daggers drawn.
The cry was followed by silence, save the sound of the winds around the estate.
Then the walls shook.
Monstrous, guttural cries rang out as something crashed against the great walls of the estate. The blows against it shook the earth beneath them as cracks began to form across the walls.
Eventually, those walls fell, giving way to the onslaught.
From the dust, thralls burst through, frostbitten and bloodied. Above them, a line of Children, strangely unharmed, floated above the wreckage, their eyes gleaming red as their multiple mouths roared.
Befitting…the return of the Igryss.
We shall dine…
Before the rebirth.
On the Wall.
Such a delicious appetizer…
Before the main course.
The vile words echoed through the minds of the troops as Children and thrall advanced toward them.
Despite the power of Hamish’s channeling, all of them, even Braigh and Merus, flinched back in terror.
Argent stepped forward, sheathing his dual shortswords in the process. Selene’s jaw dropped at the sight.
Due to the great winds, his travelling cloak fluttered behind him, revealing his armour in all its glory. Lights swirled about beneath its surface as he stopped but a scant few paces away from the approaching monsters.
“You shall find no feast here, Abyssal Spawn,” Argent spoke softly, yet his words hung in the air as if shouted across the battlefield. His hand gripped the pommel of his longsword tightly as he spat out, “Only death will you find here.”
The Children and thralls halted their advance, but did not appear threatened. An alien laughter filled their minds.
Do not frighten us…
Progeny of the Máni.
While we cannot taste it…
Lendrig’s oath to us.
“Perhaps, but you will not live to see it. I shall return you to the pit from whence you came,” Argent said through gritted teeth.
With a flourish, Argent drew his sword.
The world around them darkened as a sword of pure light was drawn from its sheath. Upon closer inspection, it appeared a blade imbued by moonlight. As he took a step closer, the blade appeared to grow as the light in his armour dimmed. The plate’s beautiful sheen fading until it appeared blacker than an empty night sky.
Everything around him continued to darken as the light from the blade seemed to blaze with greater and greater intensity.
Words of an ancient tale flowed through Selene’s mind as she gazed upon her companion’s visage. It was a tale she knew from countless retellings. One Selene had memorized a lifetime ago.
It was Arveene’s favorite story.
Against the hordes of countless evil, he alone stood against them.
His eyes ablaze in moonlight, as darkness fell upon the land.
As beasts approached, ready to rip and tear
His sword was drawn, a beacon in that endless night.
His blade shone through the dark as it rent flesh in twain.
A flash of light across the battlefield, till all was naught but his gleaming stare and brilliant sword.
Illanon Silver Eyes, the Crescent Swordsman.
“…Y—you. You’re not… or…a—are you…?” Selene stammered as she stared at his blade and back at Argent.
“We’ll talk later, Selene,” Argent said, placing the grip in both his hands as he bent his knees and raised the blade over his head, “Right now, I need you to focus.”
Selene nodded dumbly, settling into a similar stance as she held her blades up behind him.
Before the Children could react, Argent surged toward them at an inhuman speed. In a swift motion, the blade spun around him as it cleaved through Children and thrall alike.
Panicked, the Children recoiled from the elven warrior as he cut through their flesh like nothing. Falling back, the thralls, mindless brutes, rushed toward him with a warlike bellow.
Not missing a beat, Argent spun the blade through each one that drew near. In spite of their size, Argent held the advantage of reach, as the blade now stretched longer than the shaft of a spear.
Leaping forward, he continued his advance against the Children, tearing them apart with the skill of a veteran butcher. Screams of terror rang out before Argent silenced them forever with a deft slice or swirling chop.
“ARGENT HAS GIVEN US THE OPPORTUNITY WE NEED,” Braigh bellowed, “TO ARMS, THAT OUR HERO MIGHT NOT FIGHT THIS BATTLE ALONE, TO ARMS!”
Life returned to the army around Selene as they all cried out in unison. A moment later, they charged towards the broken lines of thralls before them.
Selene, not to be outdone, followed suit. She ran with them to meet their foe upon the battlefield. To fight beside a living legend.
What followed was a blur of blood and steel.
It did not take long for the horde to notice their advance. Thralls turned from Argent to face the approaching forces, much to the Children’s chagrin.
Soon, the square was awash as bodies fell on either side. Dead thralls were soon replaced by other spawn, whether it be more thralls, merrow, or giant octopi.
Unfortunately, each body lost on the side of the Hollow was but another hole in their ranks. It did not take long for the deadly calculus of war to take its toll.
Soon, Selene found herself surrounded by Lendrig’s hordes with no ally in sight.
Panic filled her, but the fires of resolve did not dissipate. She wiped her brow and stared down an approaching thrall.
I don’t know if this is the end…
She rushed forward, Shadowstepping the tentacles and tridents seeking to end her charge.
But if it is…I hope…
Returning to the world, she jumped atop one of the tentacles of the thrall. Shadowstepping again to avoid another blow aimed to end her life.
I hope they remember this part…
Landing on the thrall’s chest, she slammed her daggers down into its exposed torso.
It would be nice if some kid could hear this…
As she felt the blades puncture flesh, the thrall cried out in pain.
And it keeps them warm on cold nights.
The beast appeared unfazed by this assault, struggling to shake her off as the blades sank deeper as gravity began its deadly work.
Then, at least I can say I was part of something. Even though…
Before they sank to lethal depth, a tentacle wrapped around her torso, pulling her away from the wounded thrall.
The giant octopus turned her toward it, eyes burning with malevolent glee.
I kinda hoped I’d get a better ending…
Before its grip could tighten enough to squeeze the life out of her, Selene used Shadowstep to escape its grasp. Landing on its body, she drew her shortsword, slicing through the tentacle that tried to end her. The octopus shrieked in pain as its tentacle convulsed on the ground and blood spurted from the wound. Before Selene could finish it off, the injured thrall grabbed her with both of its strangely human hands. She struggled against its grip a moment, then slammed her blade through the right forearm of the thrall.
But Selene, hero of the Hollow, does have a nice ring to it.
The blade cut through the alien skin with ease, but the thrall did not so much as flinch. It was as if it knew nothing of pain. The thrall released a bestial roar, then used its functioning arm to fling her toward the estate’s wall.
Plus, I’ll get to see my family again…
I just hope it doesn’t hurt.