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Best Laid Plans
“This plan is insane.” I whispered to Kalista as we crept along stone beams wide enough for two people to lay side by side and not risk falling off.
“This is the only option.” her hood and muffler quieted her voice. “A direct attack on the palace is suicide, and if we can’t win here, well…”
“It’s a total failure.”
Kalista pointed to the gathered crowd of three hundred Dark Elves below us. “I bet that’s Caeldrim and Erdan.”
Two figures wearing helmets and armour wove through the crowd where she pointed. “I think you’re right. Can you see Wyanet and Phebes anywhere?”
“Not yet.” Kalista checked the quiver of bolts on her hip. “That’s a lot of people.”
“We just need to get the kids, and get out. We’re not here to kill everyone.”
A bell somewhere in the steeples above us began to toll. Strix swooped down and landed at our feet.
“Time to go, wait for the signal.” I focused my chi and stepped into the plane of shadows. Anger, anguish, despair, and sorrow chewed at the edges of my mind. They whispered in my ear until I returned to the material plane.
I stood on the stone beam opposite Kalista. The bell continued to toll.
She jumped off my back and floated in front of me.
Two guards pulled open the arched wooden doors to the cathedral. The moaning hinges echoed off the high ceiling.
“I need your help to get down from here.”
“Make way! For the Matron Mother, make way!” A powerful female voice bellowed, filling the whole sanctuary.
“I’ll need your help to get down from here.”
The crowd forty feet below my feet parted down the middle, creating a clear pathway to the altar. Thirteen Dark Elf women, adorned in full glistening black armour, carrying spears and shields marched into the cathedral
Silver nodded her head and returned to her hiding spot.
The thirteen soldiers shifted and formed half an arc in front of the altar.
“Long live the Matron Mother!” The powerful woman bellowed again.
Cheers erupted from the crowd. Four Dark Elf men, clad in loincloths, carried a throne on their shoulders. An aging Dark Elf woman sat upon the throne, a scepter topped by a silver spider in her hand. Behind the throne, three more Dark Elf women, all wearing resplendent armour with a floor length cape, marched side by side.
A human girl in her late teens, escorted by two priestess, followed the Matron Mother and her court. The girl wore a gown of sheer silk. Her honey blonde hair hung loose behind her back. The priestesses half dragged, half pushed the girl behind the procession.
Thirteen additional soldiers brought up the rear of the procession. The last soldier guided a human boy with the same honey blond hair as the girl. The soldiers finished the arc in front of the altar, with the boy held at its crown. The doors thudded shut, and the pathway filled with spectators again. The slave men set the Matron Mother’s throne down to the right of the altar and stood behind her at attention. The three women stood in front of the soldiers, opposite the Matron Mother. The Matron Mother rose from her throne and signaled to the priestesses.
I scanned the crowd. Caeldrim and Erdan stood a few rows back from the soldiers. I still couldn’t see Wyanet, Phebes, or Rolen. I looked across to Kalista. She kept fidgeting with her crossbow, her eyes locked on the human girl down below.
The Matron Mother ascended the stairs to the altar. The priestesses flanked behind her, the girl between them.
The priestesses marched the girl to the back of the altar. A twenty-foot tall humanoid representation of the Demon Queen of Spiders loomed above them. They latched silver manacles to her wrists, hooked slender silver chains to the manacles and forced the girl back. Gears clicked together, hoisting the girl into the air by her arms. She dangled six feet in the air, between the outstretched hands of the statue. Tears poured down her face.
The Matron Mother turned to face the gathered crowd. The priestesses placed a box of onyx containing eight daggers on the altar. The Matron Mother raised her hands high, and chanted in Undercommon.
Movement behind the three court women caught my eye.
The Matron Mother moved behind the altar and grasped the first dagger.
Bells started to sing a frantic song somewhere out in the city.
The Matron Mother turned to the girl. Whispers swept through the crowd. The girl continued to struggle. The Matron Mother brought the dagger level with the girl’s navel.
Startled shrieks and gasps overtook the crowd as Rolen forced his way to the line of soldiers. He shoved past the soldiers and grabbed a noble woman wearing a green cape by the neck. Rolen pulled a sickle knife from his belt and plunged it into the noble woman’s chest and abdomen.
A woman in the crowd screamed. Rolen’s victim fell to the ground, clutching her many stab wounds and gasping for air. Rolen raised his knife above his head and turned to face the crowd, “Uhuru!”
The soldiers jumped into action. Two rushed forward and stabbed Rolen. The others pivoted in a single action and formed a shield wall. The remaining noble women pulled their rapiers from their scabbards and faced the panicked crowd.
Rolen crumpled onto his victim, dead. Caeldrim, with the help of Erdan pushed through the fleeing people toward the wall of spears and flesh.
The Matron Mother turned back to the girl, raised the dagger, and began chanting again.
Kalista screamed and loosed a bolt toward the altar. A priestess jumped behind the Matron Mother, catching the bolt in her heart.
The crowd continued to scramble for the door and safety. The Matron Mother spun away from the girl. She shouted above the clangor, “Kumwua mvulana, kuwazuia!”
The soldier captain let go of the boy, and readied to strike him down with her scimitar.
Caeldrim roared as loud as thunder and leapt over the soldier’s shields. Erdan charged into the shield wall behind his captain with all the strength he could muster. Kalista loosed bolt after bolt into the backs of the soldiers.
I sprinted down the length of the beam toward the altar. At the last second,before I collided with a support pillar, I jumped. I crossed my ankles and spread my arms like wings. A sensation, like getting tickled with a feather, swept over my skin. I followed an unnatural arc toward the girl.
The Matron Mother ambled through a concealed door behind the altar, her slaves in a tight group around her.
I stretched out my hand to grab the girl. The magic coursing over my body, stopped. I scrambled for purchase on anything. My hand brushed the girl’s stomach, both arms shot out, and wrapped around her thighs. The girl screamed in pain.
“I’ll get you down. Give me a second.”
“Please hurry.” She pleaded through gritted teeth.
I extended my left arm and grabbed hold of her shoulder, and pulled myself up. The girl whimpered and cried. I wrapped my legs around her waist.
“Are you Katerina?” I pulled my sword loose.
“This is going to hurt.”
“Get… me… free.”
I raised my sword as high as I could, and swiped at the thin chain holding us up. My sword bounced off the metal. Katerina screamed. I felt the shock wave pass through her. I struck the chain again, bending one of the links.
“It hurts so much.” Katerina cried into my chest.
“Almost…” I readied for a third strike. “There!” My sword sheared through the silver chain. I wrapped my arms around Katerina as we fell. I landed on my back, Katerina on top of me, gasping for breath.
The second priestess loomed over us, a dagger in her hand. I attempted to roll over. The Priestess hefted the dagger, ready to drive it downward. A blood soaked spear tip erupted from the priestess’s chest. Blood sprayed over Katerina and I. The dagger clattered to the ground.
Wyanet undid Katerina’s second binding. “We need to go.” She hoisted Katerina to her feet and grabbed my hand. “Are you injured?”
I took a deep breath. “I’ll be fine.” I pointed to Katerina. “She’s got at least one dislocated arm.”
“We can tend to that later. We need to get back to the others and escape before more soldiers get here.”
Wyanet pointed to a handful of soldiers swinging at an overwhelmed Phebes.
“Stay behind her.” I pointed at Wyanet. “She’ll keep you safe.”
Katerina held onto her arm. “What about my brother?”
“We will save him as well.” Wyanet strapped her shield to Katerina’s back.
I started jogging towards Phebes. “Kalista! Time to go!”
I charged the soldiers engaged with Phebes. I jumped into the middle of the fray, slicing the hamstrings of one as I went. I shoved Phebes after Wyanet and Katerina. A soldier thrust her spear at me. I blocked her attack and countered with a kick to her solar plexus. Kalista swung down from the rafters and finished the woman off with her saber. I blocked another round of attacks. Kalista ran after Phebes. I disengaged and ran towards Caeldrim.
Caeldrim held the boy in one arm as he defended against the Dark Elf captain, and the two surviving noble women. Erdan dueled with the rest of the soldiers. Strix swooped past me and spit a gout of fire at the captain. I couldn’t get past the Dark Elf’s defense.
“Take the kid!” A rapier thrust bounced off of Caldrim’s pauldron. “Get them out of here!” He blocked a swipe at his head and rolled, using the attack to block another rapier thrust.
I pressed as close to the Dark Elf women as I could. Caeldrim held still. I shoulder rolled between his attackers. My arm wrapped around the boy. I took one step. A rapier passed by my head.
The boy gasped.
The boy went limp in my arms.
I tripped, the boy tumbled from my arms.
Katerina screamed “Kilian!”
Caeldrim looked at the limp, lifeless body of Kilian. Anger flashed in his eyes. Strix circled over our heads. “Damian, go. Take Erdan with you. I’ll hold them off.” Strix swooped past me and spit another firebolt.
“You’re coming with us!” I scrambled to my feet.
A rapier pierced Caeldrim’s chest. He grabbed the blade and broke it with his scimitar. “GO!”
I hesitated, then sprinted after the others.
Kalista supported Katerina. Wyanet tugged Erdan by his armour. Phebes lead the group out of the cathedral. I paused at the threshold and looked back. Blood flowed from several fresh wounds on Caeldrim. The Dark Elf captain soaked in a pool of her own blood. Strix circled the remaining three, spitting magic spells from his beak. Caeldrim kept fighting, and the area disappeared into a magical darkness.
Wyanet charged back up the stairs. I grabbed her and held on tight.
“What are you doing?” She demanded.
“We don’t have time.” I pushed Wyanet back down the steps. “He sacrificed himself to give us some more.
Our party huddled at the bottom of the cathedral stairs. Up the street, a full company of soldiers jogged toward us. Several of them rode atop giant spiders.
“This isn’t over yet.” Erdan readied his sword.
“What happened?” Naal rode out of the alley behind us on a strider, leading several more of the bird monsters.
I climbed onto the closest one. Phebes hoisted herself into the saddle behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist. “Rolen broke the plan.”
“Bastard got himself killed.” Erdan jumped onto another strider.
Wyanet mounted her own creature. “We do not have time to argue.”
Kalista and Katerina climbed onto the last strider together.
“Naal, do you know how to get us back to the farms, without taking us through that?” I pointed at the approaching wall of armour.
“This way.” Naal turned his strider back the direction he came from and spurred the beast to a gallop.
The story will continue, September 19th.
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Written by: Sweeney
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