The War of Blood and Iron – Chapter 15

The call to arms went out, and soon half the city’s garrison was assembling in the keep. Adarion was no fool. Despite the threat, he would not risk emptying the capital of its own protection. The enemy army was vast, but Cealia’s main forces had been stationed near the border, only a half day away from Ganele. All they had to do was buy the army enough time.

“From the shaft to the forge,” Dronkhar muttered darkly. He’d accompanied Sendax to muster the captain’s battalion, and the jog had done nothing for his lingering wounds. “What’s so vital about Ganele, Sendax?” he asked on their way back to the castle. “What are the Dar’Gol after?”

“Ganele is the border fortress on the western edge of the frontier. It is the only major outpost between that army and the heartland of Cealia,” Sendax replied. “If it’s overrun, the Dar’Gol could wreak untold destruction on our people. To battle an army of those fiends on the streets of our towns and villages…”

“An ugly image to be certain. We’d best do something to prevent it.”

They arrived back at the castle and reported to Adarion on the progress of the muster. The energies Thrais had unleashed had left the king pale and shaken, in stark contrast to the mountainous force Dronkhar had first seen on the battlefield. He would remain at Delnoth to recover and command the remaining defenses in case there were any further sneak attacks. Dronkhar also suspected that Adarion had words for Melekar about the events leading up to the chaos in the throne room.

Jhellen was a different case. The creature of light had healed him completely, including his broken arm. There had been a small conundrum when Princess Alyan countermanded Sendax’s order for Jhellen to report for duty, but Adarion quickly overrode his daughter’s whims. Dronkhar could barely keep a straight face as Jhellen fell into formation in the teleportation chamber.

Despite Dronkhar’s vociferous objections, Ilinnia had been selected to join Sendax’s forces. Though still tired from Thrais’s mental assault, she remained one of their only real weapons against the Dar’Gol. He gave her hand a quick squeeze as the enchanters prepared the ritual that would send them to Ganele. “Go with my gratitude and my blessing, soldiers of Cealia,” Adarion declaimed.

Sorasil handed Ilinnia a wrapped object before lifting his hand, palm outward. “Ceanur’s light be upon you, young one,” he said. “We shall attend to the wounded that return. Do not be among them.”

Smiling, Ilinnia touched her palm to his. “Ai be with you, my friend.”

The teleportation rune radiated a sapphire glow. The light condensed into a fog that enclosed them, obscuring their sight entirely. Dronkhar closed his eyes and felt the magic pull him away.

A faint bump indicated their arrival. He opened his eyes and found himself in a dirt-paved yard. He sensed the stone walls around him. Not scrubbed alabaster and polished marble, but rough-hewn rock, simple, gritty and course. Dronkhar gave a contented sigh.

The clash of battle interrupted his reverie. Sendax barked orders to spread out and reinforce any breaches, while Eolar and the other enchanters prepared a conduit link to bring the remaining soldiers from Delnoth. Ilinnia withdrew a pale crystal from its silken covering and sat near the enchanters. Closing her eyes, she began to recite a prayer. The crystal glowed, faintly at first, before brightening. A familiar feeling settled over Dronkhar, and he drew his axes, smiling at the tell-tale shimmer along their edges.

Dronkhar set off after Jhellen’s unit. Corpses of human defenders littered the grounds, but he also passed what appeared to be freshly slain Dar’Gol. There were fewer than he had expected from initial reports. Strange gashes in the earth made quick movement difficult.

He caught up to Jhellen as they joined a group of Ganele’s defenders grappling with a Dar’Gol. Ilinnia’s enchantments proved true, and Dronkhar assisted the others in reducing it to an oozing pile of scrap.

“You from Delnoth?” a garrison soldier panted.

“We are,” Jhellen answered. “The warning reached us.”

“You got here just in time. We’ve nearly been overwhelmed.”

“I thought an army of thousands was attacking,” Dronkhar interjected. “I’ve seen less than a dozen so far.”

The defender shook his head. “These are an advance force, scouts, or something. They keep appearing… out of the walls, the ground, everywhere. We haven’t been able to secure the battlements to see the oncoming army for the better part of an hour.”

Suddenly, Dronkhar heard a whispering voice through the stone. An echo. Unclean words spoken in a sibilant tone crept across his senses, making his skin crawl and his throat gag.

The earth heaved.

Dronkhar leapt back as a metal fist punched up from the ground. A jagged tear sundered the floor of the room, and more Dar’Gol clambered from it. Chaos descended as the soldiers madly hewed at the metal figures spilling upward from the crevice. The clash was swift but brutal, leaving crushed human bodies and severed Dar’Gol limbs in its wake. The survivors followed Jhellen as he continued through the fortress.

Every group of soldiers they encountered told the same story. An earthquake, followed by Dar’Gol rising from the ground. Dronkhar was sure of it—a Spiritbinder was tainting the earth beneath the fortress, channeling the Dar’Gol directly into their midst.

More contingents from Delnoth teleported into the fray, while the wounded were gathered up and sent back, but for every soldier that arrived, even more Dar’Gol erupted to challenge them. The enemy army had to be nearing the walls.

Dronkhar heard a scream, and a soldier collapsed near Ilinnia, his leg crushed. Dronkhar helped dispatch the Dar’Gol, and wondered that Ilinnia hadn’t spared him a glance. The crystal seemed to allow her to channel her power across the fortress without draining herself, but it was taking all of her concentration to maintain.

Dronkhar helped the soldier to the conduit. Eolar took the soldier’s hand and spoke a word, but there was no shimmer of light. He remained where he was. Eolar tried again, his face a mask of concentration. Still nothing.

“Something is unbalancing the ether,” another enchanter exclaimed. “We’ve lost the link to Delnoth!”

“You mean we’re cut off?” Dronkhar yelled.

The ground shifted beneath them. A quake rocked the fortress, knocking many of the enchanters off their feet. A massive rent opened in the courtyard, opposite their position. Dozens of Dar’Gol poured up into the fortress’s heart.

The whispering echo changed. Dronkhar sensed a command. A directive. As one, the Dar’Gol turned and faced Ilinnia. Then they lowered their heads and charged.

Ilinnia knelt, unblinking, not aware enough to be afraid.

With a cry, Dronkhar charged the oncoming horde. The other soldiers joined the battle, even the wounded, struggling to keep the Dar’Gol from Ilinnia. If she fell, their doom was sealed. The stones shouted the command of death… the Spiritbinder knew his nemesis and the Dar’Gol responded with single-minded obedience.

The front line of soldiers was trampled by the Dar’Gol, who were only marginally slowed by the impediment. Dronkhar slipped between their ranks, using their own momentum to cast them down as he slashed at knees, hamstrings, legs, anything to keep them away from Ilinnia. He caught sight of Jhellen, of Sendax, rallying their units in a flanking attack. Time seemed to drag on, but the line held.

The Dar’Gol faltered, and a rallying cry went up among the soldiers as the monstrous statues began to fall back. Dronkhar readied a charge into their center, when the whispers returned… their slimy taint touching his mind, slowing his reflexes. He turned, sluggishly, and saw a Dar’Gol draw back its massive fist. The blow shattered his right shoulder. He felt the bones snap and splinter, and a sharp, warm pain filled his chest. He coughed and gasped for breath, but all that came up was blood. Weakly he struck at the Dar’Gol with his good arm, but the creature batted the attack away as it prepared for the killing strike.

A blade lashed out from above and beheaded the Dar’Gol. Seconds later, Sendax’s face came into view, but it was the last thing that Dronkhar saw as he fell alongside his foe.