The War of Blood and Iron – Chapter 9

The sounds of battle whispered in Dronkhar’s ears as he felt the world bend. A faint whistle filled the air, and he and the others appeared in a large, unadorned room. A single runic sigil decorated the floor under their feet. As his senses recovered, the whisper of riotous noise suddenly became a roar.

Captain Sendax strode forward and threw open a door, revealing a night-darkened courtyard. Men armed with halberds and bearing bright livery rushed past. “What’s happening?” he demanded in a booming voice.

“They’re attacking the king!” a guardsman shouted as he ran by.

Sendax turned back to the group, and Dronkhar saw a deadly resolve wake in his eyes. “Melekar, Eolar, get the girl to safety. Soldiers, with me,” Sendax commanded. “To the king!”

The soldiers formed ranks and charged out, and Dronkhar followed them, gripping his axes. The power Ilinnia had imbued in them still pulsed, and from the acrid scent in the air, he guessed there would be several of the wretched monsters. This called for valor and caution in equal measure.

A cry from the room behind drew Dronkhar’s attention. Ilinnia slipped out of the enchanters’ reach and hobbled after them. Dronkhar couldn’t comprehend what she hoped to do, but he didn’t bother trying to stop her. He’d become familiar with this set of her face. He offered his support to her, and together they headed toward the battle.

Arriving at the plaza before the keep, Dronkhar counted at least a dozen Dar’Gol laying waste to whatever came in their path, soldiers and structures alike. As in the previous engagements, the humans’ weapons broke or bounced harmlessly off their forged skin, with one exception. A black-haired, powerfully built man fended off two of the creatures with an enormous greatsword. The flare of torchlight glinted off an emerald set in the circlet at his brow. With a shout he swung the blade at his foes, and rents opened in their armor.

Dronkhar didn’t have a chance to analyze the man’s tactics. Two nearby Dar’Gol seemed to flinch at Ilinnia’s arrival, and they tore through a line of soldiers to advance on her position. He launched into series of strikes, confident in his imbued weapons. After the fight with the runed Dar’Gol, these seemed slow and brutish.

Dronkhar moved with the flow of the battle and tried to defend as many men as he could from being crushed or trampled. His shorter stature seemed to confuse the Dar’gol, who attacked as if aiming at a human, and his answering swings dug deeper than any of the soldiers’ weapons. He succeeded in bringing down one, and soon many more bore the marks of his axes.

Every few moments, another soldier would loose a gut-wrenching scream, only to be silenced.

Ilinnia ducked in and out of his view, always at the edges of the battle. Aside from the first two, the Dar’Gol seemed to be ignoring, or perhaps avoiding her presence.

Eventually Dronkhar found himself fighting side-by-side with Jhellen as he faced off against a trio of Dar’Gol. The young man’s face was awash in sweat, and the sword in his hand was notched, his shield only strong enough to deflect glancing blows. “Why can’t… I hurt… these damned things?” he growled as repeated blows sparked off their impervious skin.

Dronkhar sidestepped a lunge and answered with a cleaving blow that severed the striking fist. “It’s the metal. It must be ensorcelled somehow.”

“Then how are you—”

“Ask my little blue-haired ward.”

A sudden movement caught the edge of his gaze. Another Dar’Gol had approached behind him, and he spun in time to see a gleaming fist streak toward him. Something hard crashed against his side. It shoved him out of path of the swing. He heard the screech of rending metal, and Jhellen cried out.

Dronkhar leapt back to his feet and swung in blind rage, sated only slightly when he felt his axe dig into his foe. His blade was lodged in the side of the Dar’Gol’s leg. He wrenched hard, sweeping his foe off of its feet. As it fell, he delivered a coup de grace with his other axe.

Its head didn’t sever completely, but the Dar’Gol ceased to do more than twitch. Dronkhar’s anger subsided, replaced by a pit in his stomach. The thrum of power from his blades was fading.

Jhellen lay on the ground, his face ashen as he struggled to raise his torn shield. One of the Dar’Gol loomed above him. It clenched both fists and raised them above its featureless head. Dronkhar charged and launched himself into the creature’s midsection, ignoring the scorching pain where his shoulder met its body. He swung madly, hacking at the creature over and over, though each swing penetrated less deeply.

Somehow, it was enough to drive the Dar’Gol back.

Dronkhar tumbled to the ground, fighting the urge to vomit. He felt arms on his shoulders tugging him away from the battered statue. He turned and saw Jhellen stagger upright, cradling his shield-arm. He wasn’t the one who was touching Dronkhar.

“We’re losing,” Ilinnia’s soft voice whispered in his ear.

“Your enchantment’s gone, lass,” Dronkhar gasped. “I need you to do it again.”

She shook her head, and dirt-streaked azure curls obscured his vision. “You can’t beat them all yourself.”

“Who else can?”

She fell silent, her eyes widening, and without warning she released Dronkhar and raced away. Swearing, he rolled over and caught sight of her disappearing into the center of the melee.

“Ilinnia, get away from there,” Dronkhar yelled. He struggled to his feet, and felt Jhellen grip his arm. “Let me go, boy!”

“I think she’s trying to help.”

“She’s going to get killed!”

“Wait.” Jhellen looked beyond him, as if sensing something that only he could hear.

Then Dronkhar heard it. Chanting. Across the battlefield, the remaining Dar’Gol paused and stepped away from the sound. Dronkhar didn’t recognize Ilinnia’s voice at first. It was deeper and more sonorous, echoing as in a vast underground cave. He caught sight of her again, kneeling in the middle of the battlefield, a pearl glow suffusing her hands. Her words rose to the level of a shout, and the glow exploded outward. She collapsed to the ground, but after the flash every human weapon shone like they were forged from diamond.

Dronkhar no longer fought alone.

Captain Sendax ordered a protective ring around Ilinnia. “For King Adarian and for Cealia!” Glinting blade drawn, he leapt toward the nearest Dar’Gol and beheaded it with a single strike. The other soldiers banded together in groups and brought their enemies down. Just in front of the keep, the large man with the greatsword felled another two, and his blade pulsed with a radiant light. Dronkhar and Jhellen limped toward Ilinnia as the defenders of the keep swarmed the last Dar’Gol and brought it low with a flurry of thrusts and strikes. The battle was won.

Over the silence of the battlefield, the man with the greatsword let loose a shout of triumph.