“You know the plan.” Nalia spoke in the language of the gods, her voice echoing through the dark and abandoned forest. “Infiltrate. Report back to me if you hear anything that we have not planned for. Move!”
Nalia’s sisters moved forward as one, marching towards the distant, flickering campfires. Nalia squared her shoulders as the dark shadows withdrew from her body, cloaking her in a layer of iron armor fit for any standard grunt in the army of Sintison. As they drew closer, they spread out, making sure that no one would see all of them entering the camp at once.
As they reached the edges of the tents, Nalia closed her eyes for a brief moment as she focused on her other senses. The camp certainly stunk of constant occupation. Burnt meats sizzling over the fire, decay from men lost in the fighting, the stench of bodily waste piled up in shallow pits. She could hear the clanking of armor, the pounding of boots against the ground.
Her eyes narrowed. The pounding of boots against the ground? It was the dead of night. Where were the snores? Unless…
Unless there was a battle impending. A brief smile flickered across her lips. In some ways, she was rather disappointed. Late nights made for wonderful information dumps from weary soldiers, but battles were excellent places to experience situations firsthand.
She broke into a quick, militaristic jog. As she entered the camp, she found it abandoned as she had suspected. Many of the fires had been doused, though a few still burned, likely out of incompetence on the part of the soldiers. Sleeping bags lay scattered, some even showed tears. This hadn’t been a planned assault; it was something that they were rushing off to complete. That would either bode well for Sintison’s army, as there was no way that Elsinor could predict it, or it would spell disaster. Only one way to find out.
Nalia followed the sounds of clanking armor, making her way through the camp, past the command tents, and to the far side of the base. There, she came upon a large clearing in the woods where the moon’s light filtered down upon thousands of gleaming suits of armor. Nalia paused for a breath as she came out of the trees and into view of the regiment.
She ran a quick calculation in her head, trying to count the total number of troops she was looking at. As near as she could tell, it was around five thousand, though she could have been mistaken. Not a massive force by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly nothing to be trifled with either. All the soldiers stood at attention, almost no movement could be seen.
“Soldier!” A high elf woman stomped out of the trees to Nalia’s left, patches clearly visible on her shoulders. “What unit are you with?”
When Nalia spoke once more, it was with the cold and calculated voice of a trained grunt. “Seven-B. My apologies for being late, our unit leader forgot his patch.” She held out her hand, where a small felt patch had suddenly appeared. The commander frowned down at her, then nodded. “Proceed. We march in five minutes.”
Nalia dipped her head and slipped forward. The ranks and files of soldiers below stood at perfect attention, remarkably well-structured for having likely been awoken from their sleep only a few minutes earlier. Unfortunately, it meant that there was no space where she could slip in unnoticed. She paused for a brief moment, just out of sight of the troops, and breathed a quick prayer to Gethsemia.
“Show me those unworthy of this life.”
A single breath passed, and flickers of red began to dance across the crowd, Visible to no one but her, the lights stopped over a handful of individuals close to her position. She called upon Gethsemia’s power, dematerializing and vanishing from the world. Immaterial, she glided forward until she came to rest just above one of the likely offenders. The moment she was in position, she dove downward, infusing herself into his body.
He trembled a single time as she dispossessed his soul. For a brief instant, she was barraged by the images of his life. This nearly caused her to vomit, as she caught glimpses of dozens of murder victims, beaten and bloody, crawling away from him as he ran them down. Yes, indeed, she was doing the world a favor.
His soul freed from Calsin, she began to take stock of the body that she now controlled. It was a dark elf, if she wasn’t mistaken. Roughly two feet taller than her own body, armed with enough muscle to fight a large number of wild beasts and come out on top. She smirked and flexed her hands for a few seconds. She was there to work, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t have a bit of fun while she was at it.
Ahead, several torches flickered to life among the troops. They burned red, likely fueled by either rare minerals or some sort of magic. One by one, more torches came to life in response, slowly covering the whole clearing. Then, with a rising burst of sparks, the first ones all turned green.
The torches across the clearing all turned green as well, and the soldiers marched forward as one. Nalia took a deep breath as she stomped across the grass. She was near the rear of the formation, which made it perfect for observation. Ahead, the front ranks began to vanish into the trees. Soon enough, she was under the cover of the tree branches as well.
The sound of their footsteps shook the woods. Ahead, the forest began to slope down into what appeared to be a small valley, where several more campfires could be seen flickering. A few warning bugles trumpeted up from below, but Nalia largely suspected that it was too little too late.
The first sounds of fighting reached her ears before she could see what was happening. Thankfully, only instants after the first shouts began to echo through the forest, brilliant lights filled the sky. Artificial suns, conjured by both sides to give an advantage in the battle.
Had the soldiers not been better trained, they might have rushed forward in an attempt to claim more glory. Instead, they simply continued to march in step, forcing their way down into the enemy camp. As they came out of the treeline, Nalia was finally able to get a proper look at the battle.
Sintison’s forces, still grouped in their proper rank and file, had penetrated about a hundred feet into Elsinor’s camp. Tents lay scattered and burning in their wake, providing obstacles for the following troops to avoid. Bodies were scattered across the ground, mostly elven, though several Sintison soldiers appeared to have fallen as well. Nevertheless, the army seemed to have drawn to a standstill as elven soldiers drew a sharp line and began to fight back against the onslaught.
Elven light code pulsed up into the air, reds and blues. Nalia didn’t recognize it per say, but it was certainly an indication to attack their position. More soldiers began to appear through the woods, rushing to meet the onslaught of Sintison.
In response, torches began to blaze up and down Sintison’s lines. They burned a yellow-orange, causing all the soldiers to turn and march to the left and right, coming down around the primary line to flank the elves. Nalia was in the group cutting to the left and seemed to be on the forefront of the attack force. A smile broke her face, and she drew her sword as they marched ever closer.
She could almost smell the fear of the elves as the ranks of Sintison marched through the camp. Nalia stepped gingerly around the burning tents and fallen bodies, noting the extremely precise strikes that had been inflicted on the elves. Conversely, the fallen soldiers of Sintison appeared at a glance to have been felled more through sheer chance than actual skill. Blade marks marred their armor, indicating desperate slashing and striking before finally hitting home. The forces of the elves were in disarray, that much was easy to see.
Nalia’s rank reached its goal a moment later, fully flanking the elven resisters. The opposite side did the same, almost completely containing the group. They stood stock still for several painful seconds, waiting on whatever signal would come. Perhaps they were waiting for a potential elven surrender. Perhaps they were simply attempting to scare the elves into fighting worse than they already were.
The torches flickered green, and both sides of the Sintison army surged forward as one. Nalia leapt across the campsite, her sword held firmly in her hand. She had almost unlimited power from Gethsemia at her fingertips, but it was sometimes just fun to hop into a body far physically stronger than her own. As they reached the lines of the elves, Nalia drew her sword back and slashed at a young elven soldier who could barely even hold his shield in front of his body.
The sword took his head clean from his body without any extra magic to make it stronger or sharper. Soldiers crashed into soldiers on every side, and Nalia struck forward. She found her new body incredibly imposing, able to knock shields from elven hands with a single blow. Her reflexes were almost impossibly fast, she could react to almost any attack thrown at her. Even better, because the elven soldiers were floundering so badly, she could allow certain attacks to make it past her sword only to glance off her armor. This left her prey in a perfect position to finish off, exposed and vulnerable. She hacked down almost a dozen soldiers before the torches of Sintison began to flicker blue, and the people around her began to withdraw.
They turned and fled as one, sweeping up and away into the trees as elven reinforcements began to dart down onto the battlefield. She caught a glimpse of what looked like a great deal of armor under the boughs in the distance before the suns flickered out and left the night in darkness once more.
The trip back was rather boring and seemed to take nearly twice as long as the trip down had taken. When they arrived back at camp, most of the soldiers simply went back to their tents while commanders marched back and forth taking reports on who had died and who had lived. Nalia performed a brief search of her body’s memory, learning which tent was his, and quickly made her way back to that location.
When she arrived, she found two men already sitting there at a small fire that grew slowly from old embers. She sat down nearby and removed her helmet, holding up her hands to the rising flames.
“Burship.” An aqahartis frowned at him in surprise. “You’re not often a social one.”
Nalia shrugged, making a mental note of the dark elf’s name. “Nothing like a battle to get the blood flowing, eh?”
“I guess.” The aqahartis sighed and tossed a few more sticks onto the fire. It flickered upward in response. “I don’t really like it. The poor elves had their capital blown up. It’s not their fault that the king hasn’t been doing a particularly good job managing things since then.”
“Be careful who you say that around.” The final man finally spoke up. He was a human, and sported a rather large beard that looked as though it would easily catch on fire should it get too close to the flames. “Three people already have been hauled off for saying stuff like that.”
“The ones that have been taken are dwarves. They’re just being sent down to Taninor.” The aqahartis scoffed. “Rebuilding their army or something. You ask me, it’s all a conspiracy.”
“Men.” A deep voice echoed through the fire as a dwarf stomped up to the fire. Nalia refrained from making a statement about irony, and instead bowed her head in deference to the command stripes on his shoulder plates. “Please state your name for the record.”
“Burship.” Nalia spoke up, leaning back in a confident form. “No golden skins are getting me down.”
“Please refrain from racial slurs.” The dwarf muttered. “Of course you’d be one to survive. What about you two?”
Nalia chuckled. The man she’d taken over had a reputation. Good, maybe no one would notice when he went missing. Or, more likely, no one would care.
The other two soldiers gave their names, though Nalia didn’t pay any particular attention to either one. Instead, her eyes were drawn to a point just beyond her campfire, where something had just moved in the darkness.
Most people probably wouldn’t have seen it. Had she been in her ordinary form, she wasn’t sure if she even would have noticed. Nevertheless, dark elves had particularly good night vision, which allowed her to see, though not particularly clearly, a large shape that seemed to have just taken form in the woods nearby. At a glance, it almost looked like a tree itself had moved.
“How good are Elsinor’s battlemages?” Nalia spoke up as the dwarf turned to leave. The dwarf turned back, confusion written on his face.
“Nothing spectacular. Most of the best battlemages allied with the wizards of Torsitour after we invaded.” The dwarf stroked his beard. “Why do you ask?”
Nalia shrugged. “Just looks to me like there’s something out there.”
As if in response to her statement, a large tree root erupted into the clearing, spearing through the torso of the human. He let out a gurgle and collapsed as a second root struck at the aqahartis. Given warning, though, the man managed to dive out of the way. The dwarf slapped at a small enchantment on his armor, causing a loud wail to emanate from his breastplate.
Soldiers across the camp leapt to their feet as the warnings of attack were echoed by other commanders. Meanwhile, the massive wood golem stomped forward, crushing the tent that had once belonged to Nalia’s body. The creature stood at least thirty feet tall and vaguely resembled a human, though it still had a number of leaves protruding from its head and sported half a dozen tentacle-like roots instead of arms. Two more of the roots shot in Nalia’s direction, and she somersaulted backwards to avoid being speared. Her sword fell into her hand almost naturally, and she sliced downward at the root. The blade shattered upon impact, and she winced. That was some powerful magic.
Several other dark forms moved from elsewhere in the camp as a rock golem rose from the forest floor not far from her position. Fire rained down from the sky, burning away trees and tents, while green lightning exploded from tree trunk to tree trunk. Soldiers fell in droves as their armor burned under the flames or lightning simply blew through their bodies. Now this was an interesting turn of events.
Instead of fighting, Nalia drew shadows around her body and stepped back into the forest. She could have fought, certainly, but she wanted to know exactly what was going on. Battles against mages were entirely different than battles against soldiers. Their thought processes were different, the way that they attacked and the point upon which they would retreat were different. If they were willing to risk an attack during the night, it was likely because someone had encouraged them to do so. The question was… Who?
She continued to watch as battlemages themselves appeared, elven and human alike, launching deadly fireballs, ice spikes, and spells designed to leech life force from their targets. The elven ones were of a particular interest to her, as the simple nature of their magic required them to have dozens of different types of materials attached to their bodies in some fashion.
More golems began to stomp into play soon enough, dirt golems and even what looked like an air golem. Nevertheless, Sintison’s army slowly began to take a stand against their attackers. Lines formed and anti-magic fields rose to prevent the attacks from reaching anyone. Nalia smirked as this latter effect began to cloak the entire field of battle. Golems simply dropped dead as they encountered the fields, collapsing in piles of stones or simply crashing as fallen trees.
This, of course, was the point that the commander that Nalia feared entered the picture. A lightning bolt fell from the sky, striking the ground with a powerful blast. Dirt was blown up into the air, trees for several feet around the point of impact were shattered into splinters. As the chaos died down, the calm revealed a man standing there who could only have been a warlock.
He stood tall, a high elf whose veins glowed with a blue light underneath his skin. Lightning crackled from his fingertips, sparking down to the ground in a flourish of energy. Nalia took a deep breath, trying to figure out who his patron was.
“Gethsemia?” She breathed quietly. “How much of a concern is this guy?”
“Not much.” Gethsemia’s voice echoed back. “He’s actually a demigod, born from a god named Kolibalt, I think. If it’s who I’m thinking of, he doesn’t even have a license to enter the mortal realm, let alone father offspring. Take him out and send me his head, I’ll bring it before the council as evidence.”
“The council that you’re rather fed up with at the moment?” Nalia raised an eyebrow.
There was a short pause, followed by an amused snort. “Tread lightly, my young apprentice.”
“I always do.” Nalia smirked, then charged forward. She left the shadows behind her, though she didn’t yet ditch the body she had stolen. It was rather exciting to leap across the battlefield, charging out towards a target which all eyes were pointed towards. She drew her sword and raised it above her head, noticing that the man’s eyes turned in her direction despite his attention seemingly being focused forward.
As she drew within thirty feet of him, the demigod raised his right arm and fired a bolt of lightning at her body. She responded by drawing up a dark shield in front of her, deflecting the blast into the ground nearby, where it exploded quite spectacularly.
The demigod spun, amusement and concern on his face. He raised body hands, firing two more bolts of lightning in her direction.
Once more, she deflected the blast without much of a thought. The lightning zinged away into the treetops, and she jumped forward. Curious what would happen, she body-slammed him, driving him backwards several steps as her shield shattered upon contact with his skin.
This time, the demigod snarled and allowed a sword to form in either hand, blades made from pure lightning. She responded in turn, swords born from pure darkness. With that, he struck down at her, which she caught with her right-hand blade. The strike nearly drove the weapon from her grasp, and she stumbled backwards as the follow-up strike came around to her left side. She managed to block the attack, but only just.
What followed were a series of quick strikes and parries. Nalia allowed Gethsemia’s dark power to flow through her, allowing her to twist and dodge the attacks with a flourish. Her own strikes against the demigod were equally ineffective, as he managed to strike down everything she threw at him.
The turning point finally came when the demigod brought both of his swords up above his head and swung them down with crushing form. She brought her own swords up to block, and was resolutely driven to her knees as the force of the blast came crashing down. This time, though, the demigod continued to press downward, forcing her to keep her own swords up to prevent the lightning-formed blades from slashing into her armor.
This, of course, is when the demigod’s already-glowing eyes began to crackle with lightning as well. Nalia had a brief moment to prepare before that lightning spiked downward, driving through her body and spearing into the ground behind her. Her stolen body dropped to the ground while her essence floated up out of the fallen elf, invisible to everyone else.
“Haha!” The demigod snarled and turned back to the amassed army. “Your hero has fallen! You will now…”
Nalia reformed just behind the demigod’s back. A dark blade formed in her hand, and she relieved the man of his head a split second later. He fell to the ground, with a thud, his glowing body turning dark, while his head rolled down into the crater that he himself had formed.
All around, Nalia could see dark forms rushing through the woods as the battlemages went into full retreat. Ignoring the dumbfounded army of Sintison, Nalia knelt down and picked up the demigod’s head, which she lifted into the sky. A dark vortex formed, sucking the appendage out of her hands and into the void, and she climbed back to her feet.
Done and done. With that, she allowed herself to become incorporeal once more. No use in being questioned by anyone who wouldn’t approve of her mission. Soldiers slowly began to march back out into the field of battle, and Nalia turned her attention to the fleeing battlemages.
A demigod, huh? During her time working for King Korvac, she had spent a decent amount of time perusing his records. There were a large number of people across Calsin who were registered as being of divine descent. Everyone with more than one-sixteenth godly blood was required to be registered with the Divine Council, those who weren’t were hunted down and slain with extreme prejudice. In her time looking over those records, she hadn’t remembered any full demigods with lightning abilities. In fact, she was quite certain that Elsinor only had twenty or thirty registered to begin with, and most were so diluted that they weren’t technically required to be registered at all. As the whole point of her current mission from Gethsemia was to investigate such abnormalities, she figured that it would be worth a small peek.
Remaining incorporeal, she drifted through the trees, looking for any unsuspecting soul who wouldn’t notice her presence. It wasn’t hard to find a young human girl dressed in clothes just a bit too long for her arms and legs. She was no more than fifteen, and stuck close by the side of a man who was likely her father.
Nalia drew up behind her, attaching a single thread of darkness to the girl’s mind. She flinched and glanced back into the darkened woods, but quickly enough shrugged it off and continued following her father. Nalia was subsequently pulled along during the retreat through the woods, not having to exert any conscious effort that might render her visible to the more advanced mages.
It took well over half an hour for them to reach the towers of Torsitour. There, dozens of mages lined the walls, keeping watch over the darkened woods. The girl and her father were allowed inside without so much as a question, indicating just how tightly-knit the community truly was. If they could recognize individual soldiers at a glance, there weren’t many mages that they were fighting alongside.
Once through the open gates, the father and daughter were quickly directed to one of the larger mage towers. Nalia detached herself from the child and began to float away, curious as to what exactly was going on. From what she could tell, most of the mages who weren’t guards were heading in that direction. A mission briefing, maybe? Whatever it was, it was likely intelligence that she could use.
She drifted into a dark alley between two low-set buildings, reformed, and drew up mage robes around herself. Her disguise in place, she cast a secondary spell over her image. It was a spell designed to instill familiarity, to give any observers a sense that they knew who she was. As far as spells went, it was a fairly complicated one, only available to her through Gethsemia’s power.
With that, she jogged over to the tower and joined the throngs of wizards and mages climbing up into the tower. She quickly found herself jogging up a winding staircase that seemed to compose the exact center of the tower itself. After climbing far more stairs than she would have preferred, she came out into an open room that seemed to fill the top level of the structure. A few elderly mages stood on boxes off to her right, which seemed to be the focal point of whatever event she was witnessing.
Quite unfortunately for her schedule, mages continued to flow into the room, and she wound up leaning against a wall trying to give an impression of both shock from seeing the battle and boredom that it was now over. No one approached her or demanded to know what she was doing there, so she assumed that she was doing at least decently well in her various disguises.
It was nearly an hour after she had arrived before a flustered mage riding a broomstick came shooting through an open window near the top of the room. He floated down to join the elderly mages and proceeded to have a several minute conversation with them. Finally, the mages all turned and addressed the crowd, their voices booming across the room.
“I do apologize for the wait.” The eldest of the mages shuffled forward, his robes a dark blue that was almost mesmerizing to look at. “We have been trying to gather as much information as possible. As you all likely know, our champion was slain. We believe that it was the work of another demigod, though the realm mages are claiming that it was a warlock.”
“There’s no claiming about it.” Another mage snapped, his voice far higher pitched than his physique would have suggested. “I saw her. She belongs to Gethsemia.”
“Warlocks don’t have dominion over demigods.” The elderly mage protested. “That’s a fact.”
“No one knows how dominion works in Astheris and Vorthis.” The realm mage protested, then sighed. “Either way, the facts remain the same. Kolibalt is dead, which leaves us vulnerable.”
Nalia frowned. Wasn’t Kolibalt the name of the god, not the offspring? Maybe the child was just named after his father? Such things had happened before, she just wished that she could have gotten a bit more clarification.
“Can’t we just open up the gate again?” Another mage spoke up from the floor. “Get another patron?”
“According to our contact within Astheris, it will be some time before they can get anyone else out.” The elderly mage wheezed. “Perhaps a few weeks at best. Until then, we will need to be on full watchfulness. We stay solid, we shore up our borders, we keep the enemy out. Once we have procured another patron, we will go on the offensive once more. With luck, the armies of Sintison will hold off until then.”
This was followed by an outcry from the assembled mages. Some shouted that the gates be opened immediately. Others announced that they needed to retreat. Nalia kept an eye turned towards the chaos while she sent a thread of thought up to Gethsemia.
“Are you hearing all this?” She whispered. “They’re getting gods to come down from Astheris?”
“It certainly seems that way, yes.” Gethsemia chuckled. “Oh, this is good. As you mortals say, pure gold.”
“What should I do?” Nalia crossed her arms as a few mages began to glance in her direction. “Should I kill them all, or…”
“Not yet.” Gethsemia’s voice was contemplative. “Hypothetically, we’re looking at something that hasn’t been seen in Astheris in the entire time we’ve been present in this dimension. It could cause a massive scandal. I want this group safe and protected.”
“So was there any good news?” A much louder voice echoed from the crowd. “Did we accomplish anything?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.” The elderly mage cut off the comments about Astheris and Vorthis and redirected the conversation. “In fact, I believe that it should be just about time, yes? Our attack served its intended purpose, despite any losses we may have incurred. My friend?”
The realm mage and the elderly mage switched places, with the realm mage extending his hands high over his head. Lights burst from his fingertips with a flicker, opening a visual portal that allowed them to see down into the camp of the elves. It looked like they were viewing the royal command tent, as it was decorated with dozens of banners and flags that displayed various crests and symbols. Nalia couldn’t help but wonder if the man who had asked the question had been a plant, designed to draw attention to the new matter at hand at just the right time.
Only moments after the image appeared, several dozen armored troops on horses clopped up to the entrance of the tent. A particularly massive elf swung down from his horse and began to limp up to the flap. He threw it open and stomped inside, appearing a moment later with a man who could only have been the king. He subsequently shoved the king to the ground and planted a foot in his back, drawing his sword.
Though they couldn’t hear anything that was being said, Nalia watched with fascination as the guards around the tent drew their own swords and pointed them at the interloper, the Ambassador of Defense. The white streaks through his hair, the twisted smile, that was the only person it could be. The Ambassador’s own men dismounted and drew their weapons, standing for a moment in a deadly standoff.
The standoff ended as the Ambassador of Defense stabbed his sword down into the king’s back, then spun and brought his sword crashing down onto the nearest guard. A battle exploded as troops surged against each other, the Ambassador fighting against the king.
The fight ended almost as soon as it had begun. The king’s men fell, and the king’s body was formally deprived of its head. The ambassador raised the severed head high, and the realm mage allowed the image to collapse.
“We have been freed from the incompetent ruler at last!” The realm mage cheered. His cry was followed by an explosion of laughs, screams of delight, and all-around revelry. Nalia made a mental note to send a letter back to King Korvac letting him know that Paulin and Hesione, wherever they were, were no longer legitimate heirs to the throne. At least, no longer heirs that anyone from Elsinor would accept, even if Paulin probably should have inherited the throne following the death of his father.
As the mages began to disperse, Gethsemia’s dark power rushed over her, pulling her from the tower and depositing her in the woods nearby. Her sisters all appeared around her, their eyes telling Nalia nothing. She nodded at each of them, confirming that they had each completed their own missions as assigned by Gethsemia. That done, she allowed herself to become cloaked in shadow once more, clothed in her familiar garb that she loved so much.
All she needed to do was send a letter to King Korvac, letting him know that they had accomplished their task, but that they were going to go investigate a rumor around the crater of Nettingo. No one would suspect a thing. With luck, it would fly under the eyes of all the gods in Astheris who kept an eye on such incidents.
They were finally free to pursue their true mission. Wherever that would take them.
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