Author’s Note: At the time of this posting, I have about 6,000 words left, and about 24 hours in which to do it. I should get it done, but it won’t be pretty.
The battle was unusual; there were no vultures circling overhead. There are some things that even vultures cannot abide. Even were it not for the dull electric stench of Tao hanging above Castle Whitefall driving them away, the flesh of the grey reavers would not satisfy, and the Chimerae are too foreign. To an observer from a far-off land, the battle might appear as though a newly-formed volcano was arising from the ground.
The Chimerae had swept down from the north, leaving no time for the defenders of the Castle to prepare for their onslaught; however, no time was needed to prepare. Cameron had called upon his newly-found powers of Tao to learn exactly when and where the Chimerae would strike. The White King had left the Castle relatively undefended, as though unprepared for battle, and sent his grey reavers into the surrounding fields of Tao, hiding motionless, and waiting for their time. When the crimson tide of Chimerae had breached against the castle walls, the grey reavers flooded in behind them, cutting them off. The Chimerae were caught off-guard, but by no means was the battle over. They called down shards of ice and bolts of fire from the skies, impaling the grey reavers and setting fire to their broken, battered corpses. New ridges found themselves called out of the ground, from which Chimeraen archers rained bolts of death and decay upon their enemies.
The people from the town of Whitefall fought in what capacity they could, though the assistance they could provide was limited. The women and the children fled, and the men hunted through the fields of Tao in groups of fifty, surrounding and overpowering the Chimerae where they could. Many women lost husbands that day, and many children lost fathers. But some Chimerae were killed.
The battle progressed long into the afternoon, the snow on the ground running red with the blood of the Chimerae, and black with the charred bodies of the reavers. The tide of the battle changed several times; the Chimerae summoned great boulders out of the ground to walk up to the castle ramparts and begin battering the gates; the White King’s Warlocks, in one concerted effort, were able to gain control of the golems and send them battering into the Chimeraen ranks, before shattering them to pieces.
Josiah and Idriys were in the middle of the chaos, largely forgotten by both sides. Sub-nakht-re had attempted to get them to remain out of the fight, but Josiah and Idriys had protested. “We must rescue Cameron!” Idriys had said.
“And we have a bargin!” Josiah had chimed in. “I will not let you back out now.” Idriys gave Josiah a puzzled look, but said nothing.
“Very well,” Sub-nakht-re said. “But we will not be responsible for your deaths.”
So there they were; practically deafened by the force of the combat all around them, attempting to stay out of the way of the Chimerae, and trying to avoid drawing the attention of any of the reavers. Idriys wove in and out of swordplay with the White King’s militia, demonstrating master swordplay; Josiah stood back some distance, and pummeled the opposing forces with spells and incantations, downing leaf after leaf of Tao to keep his powers up, and to keep the Tao-sickness at bay.
The fight dragged on for an eternity. Josiah and Idriys had lost all track of time, and had no sense of how the overall battle was progressing. All they knew was the present: dodge an errant spell from the King’s Warlocks, duck under the massive club of a reaver, slip between its legs and stab it in the thigh, nearly get crushed by the falling body of a Chimera, shout a warning to the other about an incoming sword strike. Repeat. Idriys’s hands were slick with sweat, blood, and snow. Josiah’s lined face began to look even more haggard than it did before.
Suddenly, Idriys looked up in surprise to see the great battlements of Castle Whitefall towering above them; somehow, they had fought their way across the entire battlefield! “Josiah!” Idriys shouted, ducking around the massive body of a dead reaver. “The Castle!” he motioned up at the walls.
Josiah turned to look, and Evelyn Diamadre slammed into his back, flying through the air with the force of a hurricane, eyes wild, teeth bared. The spell that Josiah was in the middle of casting fizzled and died, as Idriys dove into the fray, struggling to pull Evelyn off Josiah’s back. When he saw his attacker, Josiah took a full step back, nearly getting trod-upon by a large grey reaver. His eyes widened as though he’d been slapped. “Evelyn?” he sputtered dumbly. “What are you doing here?”
Evelyn howled, a deep, wild screech that echoed off the castle walls and over the battlefield, causing all the warring humans on the field to give pause to the horrible demonic wail. “We will kill you!” the ghola hissed at Josiah. “We will send you into the depths for your soul to be feasted upon, just as you did to me!” There was a deafening clap of thunder as Evelyn clapped her hands, knocking Josiah back another step, and throwing Idriys off her back.
Josiah sat down hard on the ground, a dull look of confusion on his face. “I was going to bring you back,” he said. “I was coming to rescue you!”
Evelyn cawed in a harsh imitation of a laugh. She leapt at him again, long nails clawing at his face. “Rescue me?” she spat. “There is no rescue from that place!” She grunted as Idriys stabbed him in the leg with his sword, but gave no indication that the blow had affected her. She muttered a curse, and her body was robed in flickering fire, throwing off so much heat that Idriys was scalded even from several feet away. Josiah screamed as the flames covered him.
Then time stopped. Josiah’s booming voice rebounded off the castle walls, full of Tao, and Evelyn’s body hurtled through the air, spinning over and over before landing with a crunch a few hundred feet away. Josiah stood, body covered in burns, and he glared in her direction. “Come at me, you demon!” he shouted. “I know not what trickery you play upon my eyes, but you are not Evelyn!”
The ghola rose, eyes flashing, and sprinted towards Josiah, legs moving faster than any human’s legs have a right to move; Josiah threw up a wall of ice between them, but she smashed through without breaking stride, sending shards of ice flying far and wide. Nearby, warriors and Chimerae alike stopped to watch the battle between the Eagle, master of Tao, and Evelyn Diamadre, ghola of the underworld. They clashed again, and again, and again, neither finding a weakness in the other’s defenses. The world turned black around them, but they saw only each other.
Then the voices started. At first, Idriys didn’t even notice them above the noise of the combat, and the fearsome display of power that was taking place before him, but before long, it was impossible to ignore. Thousands of voices, all speaking in some horrible, unknown language that only Evelyn understood. The air began to chill, and the same faint sickly green light that Idriys had seen sixteen years ago began to leak out of the air around Evelyn. Gods, he thought frantically. It’s happening all over again! I must stop it! He took off at a run towards Evelyn, but found that his feet were sticking to the ground, held there by some powerful, unseen glue.
The portal opened, and the grey reavers went berserk.
Howling with vocal chords that had not been used in decades, the grey reavers began swinging their swords and clubs and hammers, striking anything and everything that moved. At the fringes of the battlefield, they just struck randomly, but nearer to the Castle, they ran with a single mission towards the White King.
However, Josiah and Evelyn paid no attention, even as wave upon wave of demons and other horrific beings from the underworld flooded onto the battlefield through the portal Evelyn had created; the two of them were locked in deadly combat. Lightening flashed, and fire flew through the air, and meteors from the sky smashed into the earth.
Percival stood a short distance away from this, watching with a puzzled eye. He was much too confused at this point to actually do anything. When they had arrived at the battlefield, Evelyn’s suddenly released her mysterious hold on him and flew off into the fray, leaving him to fend for himself. He was very tired, but had followed curiously to see where she went. Perhaps she would lead him to the prisoners? He idly implanted his fist into the skull of a grey reaver as he stumbled after her. As it tumbled to the ground, he stooped and picked up its greatclub, using it to ward off attacks from anyone else who happened to be paying attention to the giant troll stomping across the battlefield.
By the time he had fought his way across the battlefield, the portal had already been opened, and the monstrosities began flooding out. A few ran his direction, and he stepped on them; he wasn’t sure where they were all coming from, but at least they were squishy. He primarily just stared at the battle between Evelyn and Josiah, however; he wasn’t sure who to help. On the one hand, he wanted to help Evelyn recapture the prisoners, so that he could return to his normal life at Castle Whitefall. On the other hand, she had been really mean to him, driving him to the point of exhaustion and causing tremendous pain. Plus, she didn’t really look to be in a capturing kind of mood. So he sat and watched for a good five minutes, unable to make up his mind.
The sword of an insane grey reaver flicked out; time seemed to slow for Idriys as he watched it slice through Josiah’s leg just above the knee, severing bones and tendons, bright red blood spraying out onto the snow. Josiah fell to the ground, gasping in pain. The grey reaver continued on its rush towards the White King, barely aware that it had even struck, but Evelyn pounced as all of Josiah’s defenses dropped. She raised her arms high above her head, a powerful ball of fire and lightning forming between her hands as she prepared for the killing blow. With a mighty shriek, she swung her arms downward—
—and went flying through the air as Percival’s club smashed into her body, as though she were a ball beaten into the neighboring field in a child’s game. Percival stomped over to where the ghola’s broken body lay twitching. She tried to raise her hands, to cast a spell, to command Percival’s muscles as she once had, but her arms and legs and jaw would not obey her brain’s frantic instructions. All she managed was to raise her right hand slightly in a futile attempt to protect her body, as Percival’s club swung down on top of her, pummeling her body beyond recognition. “Evelyn-woman not tell Percival what to do,” he muttered after four or five good smashes. He gave her body a sharp kick for good measure, and turned his back on her.
The portal closed. The grey reavers, suddenly sane again, and without direction, were quickly mauled to shreds by the thousands of horrible creatures that had swarmed out of the underworld portal before it had been shut.
Idriys regained his senses quickly, and dashed over to Josiah’s body, weaving his hands around him in the gestures of the healing arts, praying to the gods that he was not already too late. He set up a ward around the body, keeping the grotesque creations of the underworld from disturbing him while he worked. He staunched the flow of blood from Josiah’s leg, and cauterized the wound. There would be no reattaching of Josiah’s limb. But he would live.