Chapter 42: The End is Near
The sounds grew more grotesque – the screams and wails of the dying.
The groups that broke the treeline did not stop for long. They rushed up across the plane and up the hill. They were all pouncing towards the exit, no keys in hand, and yet, there was nowhere else to go. The only hope they had lied with the group just in front of the giant barrier.
They could only hope the group had keys. To fight and claim them or die was the only choices left to everyone.
“Group up. Shields!” Yara roared. The group had carved some wooden shields along the journey here. It was something her father had taught her. “You can find weapons anywhere. They don’t need to be made of steel and iron to kill someone. Use what is around you.” And that is exactly what Yara used. What was around her. She had taken over this group of people, and even though some disliked her because of her birthplace, the methods and ideas she offered could not be denied. They all followed her, and listened, especially at such a dire time. No one was blind. How could they not notice how terrible of a leader Nargul truly was? No, they knew. If she were not from the east, coupled with the fact that she was female, then they would have been more prone to following her openly. Nargul was just an excuse. But now that even they could smell the scent of death approaching quickly, no one with any rational thought would dare disobey her. They grouped up, locking their formation tight and overbearing; and the few who held the carved wooden shields stood at the front, bracing the line. The rest held their rocks and knives in their hands.
Some had tools and swords that they managed to carry along with them from the very beginning or stolen from those they killed.
And they waited.
She could feel the sweat bead at her brow, and drip down the side of her face. Her eyes seemed like a calm pool of dark water, but her heart clenched.
She turned to her side, grabbed the guy near to her, and pulled him close. He was of course one of Nargul’s confidants. Yara did not trust Nargul at her side. So she kept one of his weaker men there to send ideas and orders to him instead. “Tell him to get things ready,” she whispered. This ‘confidant’ of Nargul’s was not on the list to use the contraption in going to the other side, but he did not know that. And she was of course not going to tell the poor messenger. The man knew about the plan. He just didn’t know he was not a part of it to the end.
Yara shifted her gaze back to the field.
Quickly, the land before them was covered in a sea of white and black. Prospective students with torn uniforms, furs, and matted blood on their persons swarmed across, running straight for them. They seemed hardened in their directive. It was obvious that they were told about the situation by their prospective leaders. That there was a possibility that Nargul and Yara’s group held keys or a method to escape. Even Nargul’s own group believed it so.
Some of the members looked back at Yara. They held fear in their eyes. The question filled in them. “When will we escape? When will we go? Do we have to fight? Will we leave here alive tonight?”
But Yara did not say a word to them. And they said nothing in return. They were trained by their families, and knew better than to add chaos in the midst of battle. She only began to beat against her chest with her fist. It was something her father told her he did in times of war when he went out campaigning with the family at the western border from time to time.
Soon the others began to follower her and beat their fist against their chest, and the ones with shields beat the outer shells. The sound echoed across the field. And the dreary air seemed to quell.
But Yara still remained quiet. There were no words to say, no lies she was willing to spout. Her plan never encompassed any of the others to begin with.
As the group beat against their chest and shields for a few seconds, the first wave hit.
“So, what now?” Daniel asked. Daniel hid alongside Delias within a bush. Tens, even hundreds of prospective students were swarming from every direction. All of them headed toward Cotter and the group that held him captive. He was worried about his brother, but an inexplicable pain swelled within his heart, and it had nothing to do with the prospect of losing family. “We can’t let this go any further. We can’t!”
“Calm down.” Delias hissed. “Don’t give us away. Although there are many here, the moment someone recognizes us, we will be attacked amidst this chaos. And if as how things are appearing to be, we’ll be swept up with not a bone left for the vultures to pick.
Daniel took a breath to calm himself, but he couldn’t help but feel this worry.
Whilst Daniel had finally shut up, Delias was racking his brain on the next move. This was the last thing he had expected. It was possible that the wraiths were not even following him to begin with. They were drawing everyone to the center, and he just happened to get caught up in it all. Or they used me as a reference point to find the others. But that is less likely.
But that no longer mattered.
Delias had tens of light crystals in his possession. He gave Daniel a spear he fashioned, imbedding the crystal close to the tip. That way, without having used the crystal as a tip itself, if he were to face a non-netherworldly creature, he would not die so easily. And other than that, he gave him some free hand crystals, about seven in total. Delias kept the rest of course. He had two half staves, each embedded with five crystals, and a full staff. It was not just the wraiths he had to worry about which was why he geared up so. There’s that white creature too.
Crasus stood in a clearing of the forest, way behind the group of wraiths that were attacking the averati students. The grass and also the leaves that were scattered around were brown and grey, the life in them leaking out at every moment. The green trees around was stark against this clearing. Before him were six black orbs. They were like a wispy black gas that churned and churned in one direction, forming the appearance of a whirlpool.
Crasus bowed. His body was not like the other wraiths that lived in the stalagmites. He was a highborn. His intellect was higher, and he was stronger.
“Elders, it is almost time. Our friend across the mirror has not abandoned us. It is as you say; the averati clans have not moved against us.”
“Don’t be so sure.” A soft, ghostly voice cascaded out from one of the orb-like gas pools. It is possible they have forgotten. Forgotten us as they live such short and pitiful lives. Too busy fighting with the humans, demons, or foresters, I presume.”
“The world is broad.” Another voice from a different orb uttered forth. It was deep and rich, but ghostly none the less. “They have such short memories, indeed. But it is because of that that we will rise! Take back what is ours.”
“Elders.” Crasus bowed again.
“Hmm? What is it? What are you not telling us?” The soft voice began again.
“The white one. It has come. It comes from behind the lines. Soon they will break through. So far it is the averati trying to flee or fight us, but also averati fighting averati. But now, with them, the battle will become even more chaotic. They will surely attack us and try to capitalize on this opportunity. We were forced to move now, else the portal to the other world would close. But… should they fight us while we fight the humans, it will weaken our capability.”
“Hmph. Don’t worry about that white one. That creature is an abomination! It will die soon without a proper host. There is no way for it to become our lord, our master. And with it leading all those lesser beings, how could they pose a threat to us? We are too strong for them. Now stop catering to such minor facts and go! Finish the job.”
Crasus bowed again, and the orbs disappeared.
Crasus cursed under his breath. “Those old fools. What ‘they forget’? What ‘abomination’? That thing is strong, that’s all that matters. And if hundreds of wraiths can’t do damage, low-born or not, then why have we lost so many to them? Fools. And those averati. Hmph. Those averati are all filled with their schemes.”
Crasus’s dark eyes gleamed. A ghost like hand and arm condensed from his shifting shadow of his corporeal body. It was black, with a nice sheen. He reached out fluidly towards his black mask.
And he took it off.
Under it, other than his black-crystal like eyes, he looked. . . human.
The first wave was not a collective. They came scattered and individually. It took no longer than a few seconds to bring them down. The ones in the very front blocked, while the ones just slightly behind stabbed, killing their attackers quickly.
But that quickness dulled and the fights took longer and longer. And it grew harder as more and more waves came. And soon, it was a flood. A massive body that slammed into them, pushing them back. More and more came at them from the sides, their backs pushing closer and closer to the barrier. The amount was hundreds. About five to six time more than them. Though the others weren’t as cohesive as they were, especially since they came from many different groups, they were still, many. And many with many differing ideas and attack patterns. Within moments, Yara and her group were swept up in a pace that was suffocating.
Many Averati died. Some couldn’t bear it, and they dropped their shields, only to be skewered in seconds.
Yara grit her teeth. “Stay together!” She roared. But she knew that at this moment, the group may have have a better chance if they separated. They all looked the same. Since the enemy was from different groups, if they scattered, it would be less likely for anyone to notice who was from where. She predicted that at least twelve percent of them would survive. At least until the wraiths came. That was better than none. But. . . She needed more time. Time for Nargul to set things up for her. The others would surely not let him or her live. Their face was too well known by the other powerful students now as they had led a powerful group of their own.
“I have to be the one to live. I cannot die here! Not like this, in this- this God forsaken world!”
The host of Crawfield Elders stood upon the tops of the cliff glaring down upon the battle.
Some sighed. Most stood with indifference, but a few seemed worried. The recruitment head was one of them. This did not look good at all. His reputation was surely tarnished now that this had become such a mess. Some of those children were relatives of the elders here. And these elders were witnessing this scene first hand, not hearing of the results as usual. This and that were two entirely different things. But… He figured he could at least save his position. If he saved his position, he would be able to somehow come back into the fold, and reach higher heights. Even if it took him fifty years to do so, he would do it. He was a powerful elder in terms of status. But if he lost that status, he was surely doomed. Once he was demoted, he would lose any protection he could possibly have. After all, once he reached his level of political position within Crawfield, the political climate within Crawfield, and more so, the entire country, would make it hard for them to move against him. But any lower in status, he would be crushed or pressured just as he pressured Elder Sun who invited all these Easteners to the trial. Just kill off some of those from the east at least. Why are so many still alive?!
“Oh? It seems that one of them has a method to escape without a key.” An elder spoke. And at that, all the elder’s eyes converged on a small group by the barrier. There, a boy held a small black box. It had silver lines worming across the body of the box, and even with the power of the strongest elder there, they could not breach the outer exterior to see the contents inside. “Those features… A young master of the Omniac Clan. For such a box to appear here. He must be from the Northern Branch.”
Very quickly the eyes of the elders dismissed the boy and returned back to battle. The boy was a disgrace, but given the situation, it was something they could understand. But all along, the elders did not notice that a few feet away, that the seemingly weak elder that confronted the Recruitment Head only minutes before had a glint in his eye as he looked upon Nargul.
And for some reason, amongst all the powers of the Crawfield Elders, no one heard as he said four short words.
“The end is near.”