Chapter Twenty-One: Disruptions
We all sat among a table close together. Adrianna and her group sat at a table next to our own, mingling with her squad, as was the other three groups. Except for our own, which had been more silent.
The Ego, whose name was Luxferidus, spoke little. He spoke his name, and declared how we would need to work hard and fast to be better than all the rest. I’d begun to hate him and his stuck-up attitude. He’d almost got us in trouble with his actions earlier, and I knew he’d do it again.
The Giant, named Groth, seemed entirely enthralled by the idea of becoming better than the rest in every way possible. He sat, slurping down several helpings of the food presented. When I asked where he’d come from, he grunted and muttered something through his filled mouth about raising himself and it wasn’t my business.
The weedy kid had spoken the least. He’s quietly spoken his name. Baelomier Viie the Third. He followed this up by staring down at his food and poking his spoon around it.
I’d come to think that being in the order would lack the excitement I’d hoped, and by nothing but a great struggling challenge with if this would be my unit. All the other teams seemed to have gotten to know each other and were discussing openly what their plans were, how they got where they are now, and I was certain the team we’d duelled with was discussing some strategies based upon their individual talents.
We weren’t doing anything like that. I cleared my throat, deciding that if we were going to get anywhere I’d have to start the conversations going, but before I could open my mouth Fenix walked in through the main entrance to address us.
“I hope you are all well fed after your last trial, because before your day is over we have one more test to put you through.” He walked across the hall, all eyes upon him as he moved to a dispenser and retrieved a steaming bowl of grey mixture from it.
“I’m certain you’ve noticed that our numbers have nearly halved. Those that were unable to finish the previous trial may have a chance to redeem themselves in a year’s time, but for now, you are all we have for raw recruits in which to mould, and we shall start this by putting you into the thick of it. I hope that during your trial you have all paid close attention to the individual talents of each of your squad-mates, as it is through teamwork that you will complete all objectives set ahead of you, and only through this that you can succeed.”
He walked over to a table nearby to Adrianna’s group and sat down. Shovelling a few spoonfuls of his food in and feigning a liking for it with a mock-satisfied sigh.
“Now,” he continued after swallowing his next mouthful, “Me and several other larger units will oversee your operations. A potentially hostile force from the East has been sighted in a camp, three kilometre’s outside of Uo’Daek. For now, your only objective is set up a camp not far south from them along the gully located there. Our own emissaries, escorted by a small unit of Chaplins will meet with the camp and determine why they are there, and hopefully get them to move back to their own region before any unrest is caused in the town not far from there. If trouble occurs, you will all receive an order to make a move immediately. Diplomacy with Eastern forces are still not stable, and if fighting should break out, they may have reinforcements. It will be your critical objective to subdue them, capturing them if possible.” He scoffed down a few more mouthfuls and eased into his seat, staring blankly towards the pale-yellow light reflecting through the windows. He sat like that for a minute until the room began to whisper silently among themselves.
“Oh, yes. Of course. You are all dismissed. Meet around the area you were before. There shall be pre-prepared rucksacks with equipment to set-up with. You leave in half an hour.”
* * *
With assistance from some airborne contraptions that resembled a giant insect with a bulberous sack above it inflated with hot air for lift, our entire troop was taken close to a fairly open field in which to move out and find a suitable location to set camp.
Some had protested the airlift, having being crowded in a cramped and dark chamber latched to the sack, but were put to being quiet by the ranking officers with them, under order that they could not use their preferred method to arrive, as such was detectable by the enemy forces. Stealth was a key factor, and so was speed. The meeting would take place a couple of hours after being dropped in.
Two extra’s had come along. Officer’s ranked as Chaplin’s, wearing the full white and blue armour of the Order, with closed-face helms matching the smooth-curved design of the armour. They were here to oversee the camp’s setup, and guide us in a coordinated assault should things awry.
Luxferidus had muttered complaints to himself as we’d landed. Wishing that they’d been deployed for something more challenging and active than being deployed for potential watch-dog duty.
Groth silently protested the same concept as we set up a small camp of tiny maroon and green tents among the tree’s not far from the opening we’d been deployed. I watched them closely during the set-up, suspicious that both of them would once more cause trouble for us all. And during an actual mission with real possible threats, their actions would either get us removed from the Order, or worse.
I hoped that the two officers would be able to keep order and prevent any disturbances in the camp, but that could not be assured. With Baelomeir being as awkwardly quiet as he was, it was down to me to keep a close eye on them and put a stop to any miss-behaviour.
An hour ticked by and we all waited around our tents, talking silently about the mission and our thoughts. Not wanting to move too far away from where I could keep Ego and Giant in my sight, I’d ushered Adrianna over to be able to talk with her for the first real time since the day of our test.
“Anna.” I called out to her as I’d walked over. She was sitting on a rock string off into the sky, unresponsive to my call. “Anna?” She snapped out of her daze as I reached her.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you calling. I was deep in thought.”
I sat down next to her. “What about?”
She continued to stare off. “Nothing important.”
There seemed to be something up to take her attention so strongly, but I felt that it was best not to intrude on her own matters for now. Or maybe it was a good idea? If her mind was clouded, then if an event broke out she’d –
“Alex, does your farther take much notice of how you progress, despite being away so often?”
I stopped all thought and felt hit hard by the question. She looked straight at me, her dark brown eyes staring right into my own, waiting for a response.
“He… Sometimes. He tries, but… He does take notice, I guess, but…” The question had me by the tongue and Adrianna’s hardened gaze didn’t help. She interjected before I could speak anymore.
“I guess that’s just how busy parents have to be. They can’t focus on how their children are doing because they spend so much time focusing on what’s going on in the world around them. Endlessly in another dimension of their own.” She leaned back to let lose a long sigh before springing from upon the rock. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to put you in any position for an answer. Never mind it. Right now we need to get ready. The meeting will go down soon and we have to prepared to move out in the blink of an eye.”
“Adrianna… Your father does care about you. Don’t forget that.”
Our eyes locked again for a moment longer before she shrugged off the statement with a smile. “I know. He just has a… ‘Unique’, way of showing it. Now seriously, we need to get ready.”
We then parted back to our units, the previous conversation left by the rock where we’d sat. There were more troubling things afoot that would require our complete attention, and any screw-ups could result in more than being removed from the Order.
* * *
It’s was now around twenty-five minutes since the meeting was scheduled to go down, and during that time all recruits had sat waiting for anything. We’d stayed closer to the camp for the first twenty minutes, but after that we’d begun to edge a little closer, the Chaplin’s with us keeping a close watch on what we did and what was potentially transpiring at the meet.
A red sky had come overhead as the sun began to set. In the distance clouds loomed, light flashes in the distance followed not long by the rumbling of thunder.
Ego seemed on edge. He squatted, tensing and un-tensing his muscles, eyes dead-locked on what was ahead like a cat ready to pounce.
We all seemed a little on edge. Until now any fights had been a manifestation of the Order’s collective powers. But for the first time we all faced our first real danger. All of our training, every second of blood and sweat lead up to this moment.
I breathed deeply, keeping my nerves under control. I was nearly as anxious to get out there as Ego, a bitter thought that we had but one thing in common.
Another ten minutes went by, and still nothing.
“Damn it. We should just go and encircle them! Show them we mean business. Not wait here for something that may not even go down!” Complained Ego.
Baelomeir sat, legs crossed in a deep meditation nearby, silently mouthing words. Then his eyes snapped open.
Two more people nearby snapped to attention as well, and the without warning, the Chaplins called out, “Ambush!” as a number of warriors dropped from the sky in a streak of lightning.
I jumped to it, bringing my sword to bear as an opponent landed a few feet from me. It raised a palm, a ball of energy forming, but I’d been too close. Before it could release the blast my weapon cleaved his arm off. I finished with a swift strike to the head with my hilt and turned rapidly to take in the scene.
Everyone was locked in combat, some barely holding up against two. The Chaplins swung their weapons with ferocious might, knocking back those that came close as they yelled orders to group closer.
Not far from me, Groth was using his brute strength to slam opponents flying. Warriors, wearing a the blood red and black armour of the Eastern Mountain Clan swung lances to keep him at a distance.
Two others duelled it out to my left, barely keeping pace with the two opponents. Before I could take in more, a soldier rushed me, his helmet knocked off, blood running down his face. I span about his weapon, parried, and brought my sword up, slashing a fair wound in his side. The warrior fell to his knees, waiting to be finished.
Instead, I smacked him with my hilt. We had orders to take prisoners if possible.
“Group together!” Order a Chaplin who continued to swing his massive halberd, striking down more warriors. Our numbers seemed higher than theirs now. We had a chance to come out alive. The second Chaplin stood rigid, his weapon standing erect in front of him with a blue-ish pulse of energy swarming around it.
Suddenly, there was a flash of light followed by a massive boom that shook me to my bones. My ears rang as I stumbled, trying to regain my vision.
Vision slowly returned, blurry, but enough to still make out what was going on around me.
Two soldiers slumped next to me, frozen in place with eyes wide and staring into nothing.
“Bind them.” Ordered the Chaplin again. “We shall gather the wounded and make back to the camp with haste to prepare to move out. Do it quickly, we have little time.”
The Chaplin who’d conjured the paralysing ray of light quickly conjured mass amounts of pale-red rope. Some made their own and began to bind those that had not been killed.
Baelomeir walked up to me, handing over some rope.
“This is not going to end well.” He spoke at an audible level for the first time I’d known him. “Tensions between Order controlled territory and the Eastern Clans are bad enough.”
“Then we must do what we have been trained to do.” I replied as I began to bind a warrior.
He silently acknowledged and began to bind one as well.
* * *
We moved out fast from the camp. Only a few units had come along. Others tended to the camp with one of the Chaplins, keeping both watch over the captives, and those who’d been wounded. Miraculously, none of our own had been killed during the ambush, but it’d come close.
We kept our energies hidden as we moved. The enemy were either going to be aware of us, or not at all. But the closer we got, the better our opportunity to launch our assault first.
The Chaplin who’d remained with us stayed ahead of the party, giving silent orders to stop or continue. A few times we’d stopped in our tracks, hiding low in the tall grass of the forest, waiting for anything. Twice it had only been a small herd of beasts, the other nothing at all. But he was certain that the enemy had scouts watching for us.
Finally we came just outside the perceived detectable range – the distance where the enemy would sense us, even with our energies being masked – and the Chaplin gave the order to group in close.
“From here we must launch our attacks without hesitation. The enemy have acted aggressively and void the treaty. The others will be either dead or captured, but if you see them tied up, release them only if such is possible without setting off what traps they may have set. More of our warriors will arrive soon, and at that moment, we must charge. Do you all understand?”
“Good. Then may glory be with you.” He closed by doing the tradition Order salute.
* * *
Minutes went by in slow motion as we sat in wait. Some continued to shift in their place, tense for the upcoming attack. Today had turned around quickly, from a simple trail in the morning, to a serious assault in the late afternoon.
The sun had set behind the hill’s, casting a red glow over the top. Our forces were nearby and ready, waiting for more darkness to launch their assault. But even our Chaplin seemed tense. Every minute he’d snap to attention, his eyes darting in every direction looking for something out there that could be watching. He knew better than any of us the seriousness of what was going down. We were simply here for the ride.
A flash in the distance herald the beginning of an attack. Another flash followed not far from the first, then another four followed. The Chaplin raised his weapon and ordered loudly, “Move in to the attack!”
I felt my blood rise to a boil in an instant as my heart beat loudly in my chest. My muscles tensed, and for a moment could not move. A hand slapped me on the shoulder as I saw Adrianna charge off, her sword held high.
My legs un-tensed and like lighting I jetted forth, my weapon coming to the ready. Without knowing it, I let loose a loud roar, and in chain, the others cried out with me.
Lights ahead signalled the enemy campsite where fighting had already commenced, then in a heartbeat, our own forces joined the battle just along the outskirts of the clearing.
Order forces blurred by, only detailed by the red hue of the sky reflecting off the clear white of their armour. The enemy, clothed in various colours of the Eastern clans; red, orange, yellow, my eyes even caught notice of those wearing green and brown, which meant mercenaries. The battlefield was littered with troops spread out from all over the Eastern hills and plains, all prepared to fight to the end against the massive strike force of Order forces that had arrived.
My attention snapped back from analysing the battlefield as a blade came within inches of my throat. I brought my sword up, striking the weapon away effortlessly. My opponent fell back in step, keeping his balance carefully as he brought a gloved hand to aim, a small ball of energy striking out.
I leapt aside instinctively, dodging the near incapacitating shock. I felt the heat from the energy blast burn my side, but ignored it, brining my weapon hastily down towards his arm, knowing such a blast would slow him down.
He screamed out, cursing at me as his hand was slashed off cleanly. He was finished off with a fatal slash through the spleen.
Almost instantly another soldier came upon me, this one bulked up, a powerful looking spear in his hands. His face was set in that of a beast not unlike a wolf. This one meant business.
Haste attacks would not work this time. He was manifesting, his fangs bared and dripping with the blood of someone he’d already claimed. I snarled back, baring my own fangs as I reached deeper into my reserves, calling what power I had.
It’d been a while since I’d let myself manifest, even the slightest. The sensation was exciting.
My blood rose to a boil, fuelling a need to feed an insatiable hunger. I called myself back quickly, keeping my focus.
The key rule of manifestation, was to always remain in control of one’s awareness. If you lost it, you could wind up with the unfortunate result of losing all control. Those that had complete lost themselves to the bloodlust were known as Berserkers, and a strict training was put on any warrior, especially in the Order, to be in complete control.
I felt my weapon manifest along with me, a surge of power emanating from me to the tip of the blade, like an extension of the arm. My opponent made the first move, thrusting to slightly to my side, then bringing it about to smack me in the legs. An attempt to try and throw me off balance.
But my father has trained me well enough. With a display of agility, I parried his weapon down low, letting it hit the ground and bounce up. This gave me a brief opening to do minor damage.
My sword came up in a quick slash for his chest. Realising the follow of his arrogance, he brought the spear across himself, blocking the strike, barely. His counter was then to shove forward, stepping a little to his right to avoid as much of the blade as possible. I fell back, knowing it was too late to try and bring my weapon across to slash length wise, so instead stepping back, then forward into his shove, I brought my weapon overhead, He cancelled his own movement quickly, bringing his spear up as fast as possible to block the blow.
I feinted, spinning about and kicking for his gut. But he was surprisingly quick, and brought the spear down upon my leg, knocking me down. I fell down almost to my knee, vulnerable. He took no chances, withdrawing a small blade and bringing it down. I tucked in and rolled to my right, barely avoiding the blade. He swung about with his free arm, smacking me in the side with the spear.
I realised my situation had grown desperate. Half way on the ground still, unable to parry or counter, to get back on the offence a new tactic had to be employed, but onto the ground like this, vulnerable to strikes, almost everything was going to be fatal.
I continued to hop and roll out of his stabbing or slashing range, but no matter how hard I tried, he still managed to remain upon me. A sharp pain struck me as he finally landed a clean hit with the tip of the spear, slashing through an unarmoured section of my side.
At that instant I took a more rash decision. Instead of moving away and hoping for a chance to get back to fighting, I went forward and lunged, tackling his leg, smacking the knee with my hilt.
He growled angrily and brought his blade down, striking for my face. But with luck, it missed me as I moved around, rolling up to a stance, my blade coming to bare with a surge of energy pulsing from me to the tip.
I breathed deep as I watched him rise to strike again with his spear, but I’d caught his blind side.
I exhaled and the energy fired with blinding speed and accuracy, a streaking of electric light dancing from across my blade to tip, then to foe.
He flew back to the ground, convulsing and groaning. The scent of seared flesh emitting from a round charred wound in his chest, the armour around broken apart and melted.
For a moment my senses went numb as I watched him squirm. A strong surge of energy continued to swell inside me, begging to get out, my own voice in the back of my mind yelling finish him.
My sword was brought to bare and with a quick stab through the throat, my opponent was finished.
My voice echoed in my mind again, “Don’t stop now. We have to put an end to this!”
I shook my head and glanced back around. The scene had turned from scattered duels to ground littered with bodies. The Order were not lucky enough to not join those dead upon the ground.
I spied an ally contesting with two warriors who continued to slam down upon his shield and ran over to assist. I ran the nearest through from behind without his friend even taking notice. But my own ally did, and with one down, all he need do was parry.
In a moment the second was battered back with a sharp blow from the shield, and finished with a fatal thrust to the chest. As the last fell, there were no words of well done between us, just a simple silent nod before we both moved off to continue our fighting.
Ahead I spied a tent. Three guards stood outside, two of them appeared manifested and bared massive poleaxes that glowed faintly with a deep red hue. For them not to be moving off, something important had to be inside. But around them, seven corpses of the Order lay scattered. To get past them, I would need help.
An Order soldier ran up to me, spying off the three.
“They’re guarding something important.” He said.
“We need more help. They’re defiantly powerful.”
He turned about for a moment, then whistled. “With me, my brothers!”
He charged off to the tent. A moment later two more soldiers joined him. I followed, weapon at the ready.
Once more my voice echoed in my mind. “Do not hold back. Use all you have and destroy them!”
As before I felt a strong surge of energy flow through me extending right to the tip of my sword. I focused, approaching at a steady pace as a ball of energy grew from the edge of my blade.
The three had already engaged by the time I’d arrived.
“The two strongest are the ones more manifested… But what if it’s not. Why is the third not manifested? I must strike him first!”
Coming in fast from behind the same warrior who’d taken off ahead before, I brought my sword out in an arching strike, the concentrated energy leaving a sparking trail as it came down. The opponent shoved my ally away and blocked the strike inches from his head and snarled.
I roared back at him, releasing all the energy I could through the blade.
Like before, the ball arched and struck with blinding speed to hit my enemy, this time going right for the head.
He fell back, not issuing a single note of pain and slumped to the ground dead. His face brutally charred and almost indistinguishable from what it was before.
My mind went completely numb as before, but this time my whole body seemed frozen in state. I knew that I needed to move fast to continue the fight. There were still two more opponents here. But despite all my urging, my body stood rigid in place.
“Move, damn it, move!” My voice cried out. “Move or you will die!”
My body unsnapped from its place and came to the ready.
Two of the warriors engaged one while the other held off its ally.
I assisted the two, knowing well that no matter how strong, three would defeat the one quickly, then the last would have no chance against all four.
But before joining the fray once more, something inside the tent caught my eye. A faint blue gleam which pulsed gentle through the cracks of the entrance.
I pushed my way inside and paused in shock.
“By the gods… We must get away from here.”
A bomb, prepped and ready to go sat radiating with energy. Set to go off and take out everything, and there was no way to stop it.
We’d taken lessons on many situations. One of them was dealing with contraptions such as bombs. The lesson was clear every time. If it was inactive and diffusible, there would be no identifiable signs it was active.
If it was ready to go, most bombs used were ones imbedded with a huge amount of concentrated energy, and they would pulse and radiate. The more violent the energy radiating, the more unstable.
This bomb was very unstable.
“Damn them, was this their plan? Attract a large attack force and then blow us all away?”
I rushed from the tent. The three outside had managed to down one of the opponents, but not at a cost. A soldier lay sprawled on the ground, a deep wound in his skull.
There was no time to hesitate.
“Pass the alert for retreat, there’s a bomb going critical inside this tent!”
“What!? Are you certain?”
“Just do it! Our force must flee or we will all die!”
The soldier took no second guess on my plea. The warrior they’d been fighting laughed manically.
“You damn psychopaths!” I screamed out, lashing with my blade. He took no attempt at defending himself, allowing the blade to strike him down.
“Son of the bitch! Damn them!”
“Come on,” said the warrior with me, “we must pass the message now.”
We took no hesitation to passing the message. Within a minute, half the Order warriors had received the message, a minute later and almost everyone had received it.
Men and woman scattered everywhere, trying to get distance from the site while enemy forces continued to press their assault in an attempt to take anyone they could down along with them.
I raced around, still on the battlefield, dodging between the chaos of the fleeing troops. Even mercenaries among them began to desert, obviously aware that the situation had gone beyond what was agreed.
An enemy suddenly blocked my path, fangs bared and a bloodied sword in hand. He slashed out, catching me slightly off guard. Pain lurched through my side as the weapon burned a shallow wound. I couldn’t take any chances here, the bomb was critical and could go off at any moment, enveloping everything nearby. Every delay put me dangerously close to being caught.
I roared in response to my opponent, bringing my sword around to slam him away. He stepped aside with ease, before slamming his hilt into me, knocking the wind right out and sending me keeling over.
For a brief moment time paused. Me stuck in a slumped forward position, the other with his sword held being brought around to finish me.
“Damn it… it can’t end.”
Time reset and I hit the ground, rolling. A hand reached down and hoisted me up.
“Come on, Alex. You aren’t about to quit now are you?”
I gazed up to whom had assisted me and saw the grinning face of Adrianna.
“I could’ve taken him. He just got lucky.”
She laughed as we ran off together at a half sprint. “We need to get further away. We should still have time –“
She was interrupted by a deafening crack before the area brightened up with a white light.
We sprinted through the tree’s leaping over fallen logs and large rocks. From behind a wave of heat slammed us and a tickling energy made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle up. I dared not look back, for fear that if my focus lost out for a second, my feet would catch and the eruption following close behind would take me with it.
But it seemed impossible to escape, as the heat burned from behind.
“Adrianna, we need to move faster.”
“Easier said than done after a battle.”
“We need to get out of its way, and running like this isn’t going to do it!”
A fear consumed my mind as like before, time seemed to begin to slow down. I glanced back for an instant, giving into the urge. A large bulberous orb of energy consumed everything from behind us, catching up and gaining too fast for us to outrun. It was difficult to believe this was happening. After all that had happened to come this far, all to be now for a waste. An end unfitting for a warrior.
“No, It can’t end. Never!” My voice echoed through my head. “I must survive!”
A surge of strength empowered me in quick instant, and a new energy and the world refocused from its slow daze. I felt my body change along with my sense. It was as if I could see the ball of energy gaining without looking. Adrianna ran barely in front, just as unable to escape as me. I saw a wound through her cloak, her own blood staining the opening. She was normally faster than this. Her wounds slowed her down.
Then I felt light and a strange wind picked up from under me. I lifted, slowly at first, then at a steady pace. But I felt no wonder, or fear from this sudden change, but power.
With a swift charge forth, I picked Adrianna up from behind and glided higher up. She gasped in shock, not knowing what was going on as the ground below sped by.
I looked back, the explosion falling behind slowly beginning to fade as it reached its peak.
Landing at a safe distance, Adrianna scrambled forth a little before turning to gaze upon what I had become.
“Alex. You’ve… That’s incredible.”
I settled down, the adrenaline that surged through me along with mass reserve of energy vanished. I smiled and tried to laugh, before the world turned dark and passed to memory.