Opening his eyes was painful. Trying to sit up was agony. "Ten hours," a voice said to his left side. Nick turned his head slightly, but couldn't make out the speaker. The voice went on. "You've been unconscious ten hours. I figured you would ask how long it's been. I'm saving you the trouble."
With a colossal effort of will, Nick turned his head. Michael the Archangel stared mutely back at him. The once-proud man's hands were bound to a sturdy chair, as were his legs. His swords lay several meters away, on the other side of the tent Nick recognized as his own.
"What… happened? What's going on? Michael, I need to know how the battle is going. If my friends are alive."
"How much do remember?"
"The Pontiff and Phi summoned the Entity. Trentioc bound it with some weird spell. And then you killed Gabriel. And Raphael. And Uriel. And then Necro… I mean Rescalo… he put on the Silver Crown because… he was… he is…"
Michael nodded. "Rescalo's tale is one best put aside for now. Later, he will tell you. For now… Trentioc's men came down from the Behemoth. The arch-demons have been fighting the Enti—I mean, Drakuas, the entire time. They can hold him up and distract him, barely.
"I carried you back here. You were in no shape to fight. Your friends have all come back safe in the course of the fighting, though most have taken the field again. I cannot speak for their welfare now. The Church managed to marshal their force under Marcus, who is now acting as general. They repelled the Reversal to the city gates. They are trying to break back in as we speak."
Nick tried to swing to his feet, successfully lifting his torso a few inches from the cot he lay on. His breath came in short gasps. "Got to… get back… out there…"
Michael held up a hand. "Let me finish my report. Haste makes waste, you know."
Nick signaled the angel to go on. Michael smiled. "Your friend Anna has assembled a skeleton crew for the Vice, and has gone to join the fleet. Zephyr and his troop of wind riders are with her. Seithios and Lucian are resting up not far from here. Both overtaxed themselves earlier. Grimsbjorn isn't far from Lucian, as far as I know. Lexa and Kim are in the command tent, I believe, with Draxon. Kita is with them. Skralsvon was back for a short time earlier with Signalés, to rotate out their troops. Sei came back with them, but he remained to help the healers. Srasha came back with a group of injured dragons."
"Rescalo? And Trentioc?"
"Ten hours ago, Trentioc went to rendezvous with Curo, Sinarex and Chunrio. I haven't seen them since. Rescalo came to camp a few hours ago, but he persisted in the disguise of Necro. He hid the Crown and Equinox. He came to see you and healed some of your wounds. Covertly, of course. But he went back to the field a short while ago."
Nick was silent for a while, processing the information Michael had relayed. Most of his friends were in camp, and word would have spread quickly if the Vice were shot down. Anna and Zephyr were safe for now.
Retäv and his dragon riders were fighting in the air. Xande, Ragnar, Theodocious and any other lords of people of rank were interspersed throughout the fighting.
Michael leaned back as much as he could. "Nick… there's something you need to know. You know the power the Gorgon figurehead, correct? To turn men to stone?" Nick nodded silently, and Michael continued. "Well, the Church scholars and the Divine King's engineers have developed a second one, this one land-based. It's located in the Archival Building and Observatory, near the Basilica."
The archangel's gaze hardened. "They plan to use it to end this battle, when the Reversal has committed the maximum amount of force they can. It is three times more powerful than the Gorgon's beam, and nigh on indestructible. But it takes far longer to charge. Soon, it will go off. I think that only the mana cannon on the Behemoth, or a force of equal strength, can stop it and destroy it. You need to get someone to take word."
"Screw that." Nick heaved himself off his cot, ignoring the screams of his muscles. He limped to his sword belt, and clipped it on, fastening his scimitar over his shoulder. "I'll do it myself. I've never liked bed rest."
Michael gestured with his neck. "Come here."
Nick regarded the angel warily. "Why?"
"Because if I wanted to kill you, I would have done it while you were unconscious, and before I allowed myself to be bound here. And I have no wish to see more lives thrown away."
Nick sighed and moved closer. Michael locked eyes with him. There was a flash of light, and Nick fell backwards. "What was that?" Nick cried as he scrambled to his feet. Then he paused for a moment, checking his body. All his aches had vanished, and he felt as though he had just channeled an exceptional amount of power through his pendant, but Pyrrex's presence had not surfaced.
"Energy infusion," Michael explained. "You should be able to fight for a few hours now before you collapse and the pain comes back. Just remember, you're on borrowed time. Make it count.
"And Blazingheart… if you survive this, we'll have a little talk. You've earned some answers."
Nick nodded and swept out of the tent. "Havoc!" he cried at the top of his voice. "Bring me Havoc!"
A man behind him snorted. "That damned fool bard rode off with Havoc and Snow a little while ago. He's gone." Nick turned and saw General Serge sitting outside his tent with several of his prisoner troop. The ex-commander of the Church army spat on the ground. "Damn freaking rebels. Making us stand guard duty. Stupid bloody elves."
Nick squared his shoulders. "Serge. Assemble your soldiers. I need all the manpower I can get."
"Why should I work for you, Impure? I'm not letting my men be cannon fodder for the Reversal."
"Do you want to keep on living? Well, if you stay here, it's certain you'll die. If you come with me, there's at least hope for survival."
Serge saw the resolve in Nick's eyes. "All right." He turned to his lieutenants. "Hey! All of you, look lively and armor up! We've got a battle to fight!"
Nick stared hard at Serge. "We fight for the fate of the world. Past alliances mean nothing. We stand at the dawn of a new era, General. Perhaps you will live to see it."
Serge grinned. "I like you, boy. Meet us on the edge of camp in half an hour. And find yourself a decent horse."
Nick nodded and strode away. He ran to the stables, and surprised one of the grooms by grabbing his collar and demanding a mount. "Please," a voice from outside scoffed. "Like any of those would do."
Nick turned and smiled. Evara, the scarlet unicorn who had come with him from the training valley, stood with her eleven comrades. Each had a rider. Lexa sat astride Treyu, the white unicorn, spear in hand. Sei was on her right on a silvery gray female, while Srasha was on her left, with an orange and yellow male with plenty of spirit. Delphia, Tempora and Spacio stood in a line behind them, their unicorns looking proud and resolved. Nick counted three more elves, along with a human man and woman.
Evara tossed her head, gesturing to the saddle already fixed on her back. "We heard you were on some important mission."
Lexa nodded to Nick and smiled. "Remember the Unicorn Knights Evara told us about? From Pyrrex's War? It's time to reinstate their order, and you've got to be one of them. Evara won't settle for anyone else."
Nick beamed, and swung onto the horse-like creature's back. "All right! Let's go!"
The Unicorn Knights took off at a bounding gallop, vaulting through the Reversal camp. Soldiers cheered as they flew past. Lexa drew up alongside Nick. "What's the plan? We don't have any specifics yet."
For a brief instant, Nick marveled at how deep the bond Lexa and his other companions shared was. Here they all were, ready to risk their lives for him, and they didn't even know what they were doing.
"Michael told me that the Church has developed a land-based weapon like the Gorgon's, but with a wider range and more power. He thinks they're about ready to fire it. We need to stop it."
"Sounds too easy. What's the catch?"
"It's near the Basilica. We have to fight our way into and through Vertalia before we even get close, then we need to find a way to destroy it. Which I'm not completely sure we can do."
Sei laughed. "But what's the catch?"
They arrived at the edge of camp, and Nick noted that General Serge, along with his troop of thirty prisoners of war, were waiting. But they were not the only ones to greet Nick and the Unicorn Knights.
Kim, Kita, Lucian, Seithios and Draxon all stood in a line, faces set in grim determination. Grimsbjorn stood mutely at attention beside Lucian. Seithios wore his Grandmaster armor, and it sparkled in the early morning sunlight. He tossed his hair back. "Now you weren't thinking of going off alone again, were you? Bad things always happen when you go alone."
Lucian turned his eyes to where he hoped Nick would be. "We've saved your sorry posterior so many times in the past year, it would be foolish to stop now."
Kim raised a fist. "The Seven is strongest together. Zephyr and Anna will meet us inside Vertalia's walls."
Nick glanced at Kita. "Sister, I really don't think—"
"No. Kita is going." The shape shifter turned into a large gray charger, and Kim fixed a saddle to her back, along with the help of one of Serge's men.
"Kita rides with me, Nick. She is as much a warrior as any of us."
"She's only seven years old!"
As much as Nick wanted to protest, his companions were adamant. Draxon smiled as he drew two of his swords. "Don't worry about us, Nick. Focus on your duty. I'll keep them safe."
A trumpet sounded on the horizon. Seithios turned and smiled. "Ah, right on time. I was wondering when they would get here."
Kim raised an eyebrow. "Who? What are you talking about?"
"I've sensed them through the earth all night. Just a few old friends come to join the fun."
The ground under the unicorns' hooves was shaking. Serge gripped his sword, his mouth set in a grim line. "I don't like this. Bloody Elvin magic."
Seithios shook his head. "Not magic, nor elves, I assure you."
At least fifty black-clothed figures ran over a nearby hilltop, sprinting down the rise to where the small force stood. Behind them lumbered gigantic gray creatures, with more black-cloaked riders on their backs. They waved bows, sickles, and ball and chains in the air as they drew closer as a cheer went up.
"Grandmaster! Grandmaster! Grandmaster!"
Nick raised his fist in greeting as Seithios spread his arms wide. A young man jogged up to the Chosen of Earth and embraced him. He placed his hands on Seithios's shoulders and stared him in the eyes.
"The Shadow Walkers have come to fight for the future. Of both our order, our continent, and our world." Then, the young man dropped to one knee. The other Shadow Walkers did the same, pressing their foreheads to the dirt.
Seithios grabbed the back of the man's shirt and pulled him to his feet. "I knew you would, Claw. Your timing couldn't be better. We march for the gates."
Claw turned on his heel and raised his arms. "The Grandmaster has spoken! The Shadow Walkers will lead the charge!"
The refugee warriors from the Earth Temple raised their arms in salute as the elephants trumpeted in unison. Claw grinned at the Serge's troop. "Try and keep up with us." Then, he and his force sprinted to the battlefield.
Nick tapped his heels against Evara's flanks, urging her into action. Lexa, Treyu, Sei, and the rest of the Unicorn Knights followed close behind. Seithios grabbed onto a rope thrown down from one of the elephant's backs, and clambered up. Lucian mounted one of his larger quadruped monsters, something with the fangs, claws and stripes of a tiger, but the body of a large reptile. Kim and Kita galloped alongside the Unicorn Knights, while Draxon, Serge, and the Church prisoners of war ran on foot.
After a few minutes of running, two members of the Unicorn Knights, Alto, the human female, and Fas'tara, an Elvin warrior-scholar from the same order as Sin'rezo, stood in their stirrups and drew their bows back to their ears. Alto was a light mage, and she made a glowing orb appear on the tip of her shaft.
"Slatha!" Fas'tara shouted, and her arrow burst into brilliant indigo fire.
The two launched at the same time, the two arrows blazing a trail through the sky over the Reversal troops near the wall. "Clear the way!" Vartin, the other human Knight shouted. He drew a sword and small axe, holding them above his head as water trailed behind them.
Vei and Yor'thalo, the two other Elves, raised their swords and used them as lightning rods, hurling bolts of magical energy. Tempora, Spacio and Delphia raced past Nick and Lexa, their powerful manipulations springing to life.
Sei muttered something to his unicorn before turning to Lexa. "We'll shoot for where the Church is weakest. According to reports, Xande, Aratis, Leonidas and Skralsvon are near the Basilica. If we meet with them, they'll cover us."
That was all the Elf Prince had time for, because at that moment, the Unicorn Knights met their first opposition as a unit. Nick drew Inferno and his scimitar, igniting the steel. Evara shifted beneath him, quickly changing gait to accommodate for combat.
"You try and deal with the soldiers," the unicorn shouted. "I don't want my horn getting dirty."
Nick found himself smiling as he launched a fireball at a nearby wind rider. Draxon ran by in full plate armor, six swords spinning around him by way of telekinesis. He clutched a longsword in both hands, and sliced with expert form at any enemy who managed to get past his whirling guard.
Kim and Kita surged through the first rank of soldiers, golden fire trailing from Kim's hands. She was quickly learning how to control her newfound magical powers, but she still relied heavily on her signature mindbolts.
Serge used his sword to chop through an oncoming cavalry trooper before blasting another with lightning. "Stupid bloody elves. Damn centaurs. Idiot werewolves. Damn, damn, damn Marcus. Stupid Pontiff. Bloody damn stupid sodding idiot war."
His loyal men fought alongside him, never speaking. Their faces were set in a grim line as they pushed towards. Three fell to the ground as the Church recovered enough to try and repel the attack.
Alto grabbed another by his loose-fitting hauberk, hauling him out of harm's way as Vartin impaled the attacker with a lance made of ice. Fas'tara protected him with a hail of arrows, and Lexa cleared the path ahead with a mighty pillar of light that blasted down from the heavens.
"Evara, go!" Nick shouted.
The scarlet unicorn bunched up for an instant, then shot over the heads of the Church soldiers below. Nick created a column of fire to descend behind them, covering their rear.
As Evara descended, a group of soldiers drew up lances. With a snarl, Lucian's monster batted several of them aside with a swing of its foreclaw. A chakram shot out seemingly from nowhere, taking the head off another before angling back. Three seemed to slow down as blood erupted from dart wounds on their neck. The rest were immolated in a mysterious fire.
Lucian, Delphia, and her siblings fell in beside Nick. "Even if we get to the gate, they've barred it again!" Tempora shouted.
"We don't have anyone to open it!" Spacio cried. "We should head for South Gate! We can get through there! Seithios broke the mechanism!"
"No, it would take to long!" Nick shot back. "I'll unmake the doors!"
"Don't bother!" Claw said as he twirled past, snapping a sharp kick to a foe's neck. He landed gracefully, and made two slabs of stone slam into a charging cavalry unit. The horses screamed and ran away. "We can get you over the walls, without slaughtering everything in our way."
Lucian's eyebrow went up over his scarf. "Well, that's a new approach."
Claw whistled. "Shadow Walkers! Ready? Craft!"
All the Earth Temple fighters slammed their palms to the dirt, and channeled their manipulation. Seithios leapt from the back of his war elephant, quickly realizing what his comrades were doing. The Shadow Walkers chanted in their native Crinsharlanese, and stone ramps began to rise from the earth. Serge pointed with his sword. "Everybody up! We'll take the walls!"
He led the charge, Nick and Lexa galloping just behind. Church soldiers on the ramparts leveled spears and bows, hurling them down at the Reversal force that rose up in a swelling wave. Elite Church Knights drew swords and charged down the twelve ramps that had grown and latched onto the walls. Nick felt the world slow down around him as his warrior instinct took over.
Evara gasped, and Nick swept out Inferno. A wave of fire followed the blade, incinerating a cloud of arrows. The unicorn thrust her horn into a soldier's neck, and then tossed her head, shaking him free.
Grimsbjorn ran past Nick, his black longsword shimmering as he cleaved through a Knight's gauntlet. Then, as the man clutched his stump of an arm, the ex-Lord jammed the point of the blade into a now well-known chink in the Knight's armor, a small groove at the base of the neck. The shadow mancer bared his teeth in a feral grin, and swept forward, bringing death wherever he glanced.
The elephants thundered up the slope, trumpeting all the while. No matter how many arrows dug into their leathery hides, they never seemed to stop. Finally, after one of the behemoths had taken more punishment than Nick thought any animal could bear, it stumbled, fell, and slid down the ramp, scattering Reversal foot soldiers as they dove out of the way. The Shadow Walkers that had sat on it's back leapt off, and onto the Knights that had struck the final blows.
The five members of the Seven, the Unicorn Knights, and their allies had all reached the wall. Several Shadow Walkers were already crafting ramps to descend. But still, Reversal troops were climbing. Spacio, Vartin, Fas'tara and Yor'thalo all swung their unicorns around to provide cover for the troops still coming up the ramps.
Nick glimpsed Draxon still fighting his way towards them. The man had sustained major injuries, with several arrows sprouting from his plate armor. The broken haft of a spear was lodged in his left hamstring, and the ground under his feet was soaked with blood.
"Go!" the telekinetic man shouted. "I'll hold them!"
"Draxon, no!" Kim shouted.
Sei looked down at his hands. Lansa, the unicorn he rode, shook out her mane. "He wanted to die this way," the Elvin Prince whispered. "We should respect his wishes."
Kita turned around, and strode down the ramp Claw and Seithios conjured. Kim turned around, tears in her eyes. She called down golden lighting, trying to thin the opposition around Draxon.
"Save your strength!" Draxon shouted over the chaos. He was using his telekinetically controlled blades to clear a path through the Church fighters, and he pushed the Reversal members behind him away with the same unseen force. "All of you, get out of here!"
He spread his arms wide, and the swords around him began to spin at breathtaking speed, forming a razor-edged curtain around him. Soldiers fell back even as they were sliced to ribbons. The sheer speed of the blades was enough to pierce armor.
Draxon's right hand shot up, and clenched into a fist. A Church airship hovering above lurched as it was caught in his hold. He swung downward, and the ship followed. It crashed into the ramp hard enough to destroy the hull, and a sizable portion of the wall. When the smoke cleared, many Church soldiers lay scattered upon the rubble, dead or dying. Draxon was gone.
Kim wiped tears away with her sleeve. "He was very brave…"
Srasha's eyes betrayed her disbelief. "Who's going to tell Retäv? Gods, there's not even a body…"
Treyu pranced from hoof to hoof. "We'll mourn Draxon later. We have a mission to fulfill."
Serge nodded. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm with the goat." He signaled to his remaining twenty-three soldiers. "Let's move out."
Fas'tara rode alongside Nick and Evara. The elf looked about the same age as Sin'rezo, but had silvery-blonde hair to the dragon rider's black. His was also fairly longer, and his face more angled. The scholar-warrior glanced at the Chosen of Fire.
"The rest of the Knights and I will cover you and Alexanore when we reach the Archives. Get in and out as fast as you can. We've sent wind messages, and the Reversal presence in the city is holding the plaza."
Nick nodded grimly, and glanced up at the sky. Airships traded fire some distance from the city. Neither side wanted an airship to crash down on Vertalia. Lower than the airships, the arch-demons and the Drakuas construct flashed across the sky. They caused sonic booms wherever they collided.
"The stakes are higher than ever," Delphia said as they galloped through the city streets. "Whatever happens today will change the world forever."
Vartin shook his head. "You mean the world will change more. Nothing has been the same since the Church invaded Casinoria." The water shifter glanced at Nick. "You saved my life in the battle, you know. I was there in your force on Shaded Palm Boulevard. A Knight nearly killed me in that ambush, but you blasted him. I never got to thank you for that."
Nick shook his head. "Don't. It was in the past, and done. Just do what you can now, in the present."
Vartin smiled. "All right. But someday, I'm going to repay the favor."
"That day might come sooner than you think," Seithios said, dashing alongside. The cobblestones under his feet vibrated as he unconsciously channeled his power. "Who knows what will happen in the next couple hours?"
They emerged in the Basilica Plaza, and saw that a struggle was already taking place. Xande, Aratis, Leonidas, Stefán, Ragnar and Skralsvon were all visible in the chaos. The werewolf chieftain howled as Nick approached, and used his powerful jaws to crunch through the mail on a Knight's arm.
Lucian whistled. "Grimsbjorn, strike!"
The mute shadow mancer descended from one of the nearby buildings, cleaving a soldier in two. Ragnar whirled, his axe at the ready. "Traitorous brother! I'll have your head at last!"
"No!" Lucian shouted. "He's mine now! My vassal! And I won't let you harm him, Uncle!"
Ragnar snarled, but returned to the fight at hand. "I swear, nephew, I'll deal with this later."
The two brothers fought side by side, finally brought together by the strange machinations of fate. Neither seemed particularly pleased at the prospect, but their enemies scattered in fear before them. Xande was crafting a flower bed from hell, giant thorny vines growing from the cracks in the pavement, trees that strangled any who drew too close, and roses that twined around an enemy, draining the life from their bodies with grasping roots and tiny thorns.
Aratis danced through a column of Knights, Rose Moon flashing in the sunlight. A long hook of fire shot from the blade, driving a wedge for her to continue her sinuous motions. Leonidas and Stefán fought a single opponent, a man in brass and gold armor that was obviously Soulcrafted. He wore a visor over the lower two thirds of his face, obscuring his mouth and nose. His eyes were dark, but an intense light burned within them.
He used a bastard sword, like Grimsbjorn. Currently, the strange man held it with one hand, while the other produced a fire manipulation shaped like a lance. It took all of Stefán and Leonidas's concentration to negate it with water.
But what truly drew Nick's eye was the dark circlet that held the man's brown hair in place. Though he was certain he had never seen it before, it felt oddly familiar. Then, he realized why.
He was looking at the Obsidian Crown of Teresoto. The Divine King had taken the field.
Evara sensed Nick's unease. "That man…" she muttered.
"Must be stopped," Nick said. "Go! We have to help!"
Srasha and her unicorn mount darted in front of them. "No! You need to stop the Church ultimatum! I'll go help them!"
Nick tried to protest, but a boom from behind made Evara wheel around. A strikingly familiar man strode out of the Archive Building, with three figures in tow.
Aleksander and Halgerda looked grim, and Phi seemed grayer than usual. His face seemed to have sunken in, and the light had died in his eye. He saw Grimsbjorn, and averted his gaze.
The one-time Lord of Ginúnford bared his teeth. "You disobeyed me." The three words, the first he had spoken since the previous night, cut through the charged air of the battle. All the fighters stopped dead.
General Marcus, who led the procession, raised an eyebrow. "Well, there you are. We've been worried sick, you know. I wanted the pleasure of destroying you myself."
He clapped his hands, and fifty Knights raced from nearby alleyways, joining the fray. Finnbihor, the young necromancer from Isolo, slunk out of the shadows to stand by Marcus's side. The general beamed.
"I'll kill you all, then bring you back as an unstoppable army of the undead!"
"I'd like to see you try!"
"Necro!" Kim cried. The bard-king stood on the pedestal of one of the statues near the Basilica, the silver circlet obscured by his large hat. He brandished his rapier, not Equinox. The lost heir of Rinshonan leapt down and summoned several skeleton warriors.
"You have tainted the dark art of necromancy further with your greed," Rescalo growled. "I will end your sins here, Marcus! Trentioc, come forth!"
Trentioc, Curo, Sinarex, Chunrio, and a force of other mercenaries from Trentioc's group poured out from the Basilica, and met Marcus's Knights. Netta flew out with a cry, sending Knights aloft with her strange magnetism. The Viceroy was followed by the entirety of the Isoloian dispatch, evening the odds for the Reversal.
Rescalo locked blades with Marcus himself. "I will set Finnbihor free!"
Marcus grinned as he shoved Rescalo away. "Finnbihor is mine now! The only way he can be free is through death!"
"So be it."
A crash sounded from above, and a giant serpent composed of water descended from the heavens. It coiled around the ruins of the Basilica, and a young woman shot from its jaws. An eagle composed of wind and dust followed her, which slammed through a company of wind rider Knights. A small figure dropped from the construct, and swooped along the ground.
Anna and Zephyr raced towards Nick, and were joined by the other Seven. Trentioc sprinted towards them, Maniac dripping with fresh blood. "We've bought you time!" the strange mercenary shouted. "You have to destroy the weapon! The Behemoth can't get here in time!"
Kim nodded. The other Unicorn Knights fell in around the Seven, as Retäv, Rhehia, and their dragon riders descended from the skies. "We'll cover you until you get into the Archives," Evara said, bumping her nose against Nick's arm.
Retäv saluted Nick from the air. "We've got your back, heroes."
Kim drew Wrath, which pulsed with golden light. "Well… let's get going. Our destiny awaits."
A/N: Scattered Sparks is not over. However, I cannot share the end of the story with you here. The fall of the Church of the Entity and the city of Vertalia must be told in another form. I must withhold from you the conclusion to this installment in the hopes that you will purchase it for yourself on Amazon. It pains me to do this, but I am in desperate need of the financial support my book sales provide me. I pray you will continue to support my work and help me in this endeavor.
I cannot stop you from moving on to Fire Eternal and attempting to figure out what transpires in the pages to come. If that is your wish, so be it. Know that I bear you no ill will, no resentment. But should you buy one of my books, know also that you have my eternal gratitude. So, dear reader, the choice is yours.