Previous Chapter: 1.4 – Anroma
I knew Anroma had woken from her nap when I received her mind message, “It’s time”. She stood with her cloak on, waiting with an impatient look while I slowly pulled on my shoes.
“Okay, not all of us can sense the opposition,” I said. Once my shoes were tied, we hurried out of the hut heading toward our designated location. While climbing the four flights of steps, I reminded her to send a message to Ace so we weren’t the only ones who knew the raiders were on their way. She rolled her eyes, “As if I hadn’t already.”
When we reached the top, I glanced out toward the edge of the forest.
“So, where are they?” I asked.
“Oh, they’re not here yet – I was just testing our response time,” she laughed as she walked back into the building from the balcony.
“What?” I asked, “I’m wearing my shoes on the wrong feet because you rushed me – I even forgot my bow!”
“Calm down, JoJo, I’m just kidding – they’ll be here in five,” she said as she walked back onto the balcony with a sly smile. True to form, she plopped down in the corner and closed her eyes. “It’s not like you would have been able to hit anything with that bow anyway.”
I’ve always wanted an irritating little sister, I thought to myself as I turned, trying to hide my smile.
Looking over the balcony, I saw the villagers hustling to ready themselves. The two boys from the meeting earlier were leading the elderly and children who could not fight toward the last line of houses for safe keeping. As I watched them herd the group, their names suddenly popped into my conscious – Rosen and Druen. Refusing to give An the satisfaction of my disbelief at her response, I continued watching over the preparations, not paying her any mind. Running past the shepherds of the non-fighters was Hyde, who was in charge of the first line of defense. He had changed into a light robe with no visible armor, save for two solid gray gloves which were attached to his belt. I made a mental note to ask him about his choice of outfit later. Accompanying Hyde were several villagers that were moving into position behind a newly-erected barrier located on the northern perimeter of the market. This boundary was before a hill the raiders would have to pass, driving them to collide with our forces. The warriors that were not placed on the front line were positioned further back, hidden within the first row of houses. This group was under the command of Acetate, who was on the roof of one of the houses. He was gesturing wildly and laughing with Vaynen. The King’s outfit was largely the same, but I saw that Vaynen had chosen to wear a bulky set of armor. The armor plates and the helmet he held in the crook of his arm were painted entirely black except for the chest piece, which had a red heart in the center. On the ground laying next to his feet was a battle axe with the same color scheme. I wasn’t aware of any battle axes that were long range, so I was unsure as to why Vaynen was positioned on the roof.
Suddenly, the sound of raiders charging through the woods manifested. Vaynen hopped on one of Ace’s clouds and was taken down to the front line; I rolled my eyes in jealousy. The attacker’s forms now became clear as they exited the tree line – a hippopotamus, a crocodile, two penguins, a pit bull, and a bear. Pulling up the rear were four hybrids in human form: two with swords and two with bows.
“The hippo is their leader, his name is Tamasu,” spoke An in my head.
I stole a glance back at her and noticed her beginning to wince.
“I sent that to everyone and everyone replied,” she rubbed her temples. “Tama-who? What’s a hippo? Do it for Lina… My bowels are liquefying,” she mocked.
“The perils of mindreading,” I chuckled, turning my attention back to the charging raiders.
By the time I had turned back to watch, the two forces had collided. Hyde was engaged with two of the human swordsmen. He had since donned his stone-gray gloves and was blocking their strikes with a deftness I did not expect. I was shocked with the durability of his gauntlets, maybe they were some sort of stone after all. The two swordsman were circling around Hyde, taking turns slashing at him. Hyde continued to parry, getting a few jabs in without exposing himself. Eventually, the two human humans hopped toward him at the same time. The one to his left brought the sword down in a vertical slash while the other on his right went horizontal as if to slice him in half. Hyde spun out of the reach of the downward slash and grabbed the other’s sword, using his momentum to rip it from his attacker’s hands. Hyde flipped the sword so he was holding the handle and spun behind the unarmed attacker, planting the blade through the man’s back. The man fell to his knees and Hyde kicked him over, ready to face the other swordsman. This encounter gave me hope until I saw the crocodile slither over to aid its comrade.
I twisted my attention to the sound of several cries just in time to witness the bear ripping through four villagers. I couldn’t even see what weapons the poor warriors had; it was a blur of claws and teeth as they went down within a span of 30 seconds. Unable to continue watching, I looked around the battlefield for more promising matchups but unfortunately found one almost as disheartening. Rosen and Druen were facing off with Tamasu, the hippopotamus. They were at least smart enough to dance around him and not face him head on. I noticed that every time Tamasu got close enough to cause them harm, he stumbled ever so slightly. Taking a quick glance back to the first row of houses, I noticed Acetate sendings bursts of wind to keep hippo off balance and the two boys alive.
Beside the two boys was Vaynen caught in his own battle. He fought slowly and methodically. His pit bull opponent was charging recklessly, nearly splitting himself on Vaynen’s axe. The black and red axeman was in no danger but seemed unable to land a finishing blow. Still, he continued… slash, block, kick, slash. Vaynen began strafing towards Hyde, the swordsman and the crocodile. I wanted to yell and warn the Chief but I would just confuse our entire force.
“He’s doing that on purpose,” An assuaged my fear.
Sure enough, Vaynen parried his opponent’s advance and immediately swung his battle axe behind him, decapitating the swordsman Hyde was dueling. Vaynen moved away, returning his focus to the pit bull, leaving Hyde only with the crocodile to contend.
At some point, Rosen and Druen had been taken down by Tamasu but I couldn’t tell how serious their injuries were, even with my enhanced sense of sight. Throughout the fight so far, the villagers were able to defeat two swordsmen while simultaneously losing Rosen, Druen, and the four villagers who had been torn through by the bear.
Anroma jerked to a standing position, “They’re going for the rows of houses!”
“Relay it to Hyde!” I shouted. Two penguins and the two bowmen began sprinting towards the residences. Noticing the sprinting hybrids, Hyde dodged out of the way of the crocodile’s bite and was able to take the rope from around his waist to quickly tie its jaws shut – it was crudely done but it would keep the crocodile out of the skirmish temporarily. Hyde then took off after the four sprinters, only pausing briefly to coax the last, surviving first-lineman out from hiding behind a broken section of fence. With the man unwilling to move, Hyde grabbed the bow from him, aiming a shot toward the runners. He hit one of the humans square in the back, handing the bow back to the frightened man, yelling at him to follow.
The remaining three raiders continued sprinting toward the houses. Ace, now aware of the rushing raiders, sent a gust of wind flowing toward them, hitting the ground between the penguins. The earth collapsed beneath their feet, sending both the penguins and bowman into a deep pit. They really didn’t share much of the plan with me, I thought.
Having seen his companions collapse into a pit and not having much left to fight along the front line, the bear took off toward the rows. It jumped and easily cleared the pit, continuing on. Two of our second-line warriors approached the bear but were quickly swiped to the ground.
Acetate jumped from the roof to join the fray. He stood circling the bear, occasionally sending gusts of wind toward it to keep it from charging him. Tamasu and the crocodile joined the bear in the second stage of the battle. It became a standoff, likely due to the exhaustion both sides felt. The hybrids led by Tamasu stood motionless, their backs to the pit. Acetate and Hyde stood side by side.
Suddenly, Acetate sprinted forward twirling his scepter, its faint white glow now becoming a radiant green. He made a slashing motion through the air and a concentrated whirlwind appeared, heading directly for the crocodile. The blast of air caught the crocodile who began to claw at the ground, attempting to gain back its footing to avoid the pit. With a second blast of wind, the crocodile lost its grip and went flying snout over tail into the pit. It was now two versus two. However, I didn’t have high hopes for our side, especially against a full-grown hippopotamus and a bear with more than half a dozen kills to their name.
“Not two,” I heard An say from behind me. She didn’t have time to clarify verbally. “It’ll be at least four now…” she sent mentally, already going back on her promise not to send out mass mind messages.
Wondering where the newcomers would arrive, I did a complete scan of the battlefield.
“I should probably see if I can find reinforcements, you’re good here alone right?” I said, turning towards the balcony doorway. As I began walking to leave, I suddenly felt a sharp pain drag across my back. In the next moment, a rat suddenly dropped from the roof balcony between me and the path inside.
“Depends on your definition of good…” Anroma responded.
“You know after this rat…” I turned to see the form of what had raked its claws down my back, “…and cat showed up, I really don’t think I needed you to answer that,” I spoke through clenched teeth.
The cat and rat then began to simultaneously change into their human forms. Turning away from the rat, I charged at the hybrid shifting from its cat form, putting strength behind a shove. Still momentarily incapacitated from his change, he grappled for a hold on the balcony as he tumbled over the edge to his death. The rat, fully returned to its human state, charged at me. However, feeling sapped of my strength from the cat’s scratch, I raised my hands to brace myself for impact from the rat-man – it never came. Instead, I heard a crow caw and then drop out of the sky toward the rat-man. It was like deja vu as I watched the crow change into the boy who had saved me once before. He landed with a thud in the path of my attacker watching as the former crow winced, now forced to put pressure on his still-broken leg. He grabbed hold of the charging man and twisted so that they both fell off the side of the balcony. Anroma and I turned to look over the edge, seeing my twice-savior barely manage to turn into a crow and slow himself before skidding across the ground and coming to a halt, laying unmoving.
I looked back toward the battlefield just in time to see an arrow piercing through the shoulder of Hyde, who was now collapsed on one knee. Two hybrid eagles were now flying through the sky, changing rapidly between their avian and human forms, shooting arrows from the sky. In addition to the eagles, there were five additional hybrids armed with swords surrounding Acetate and the now-kneeling Hyde.
My vision began to fade. I heard An get up and cross the balcony, placing a hand on my back. A lightning-like sensation ran from my back through her hand and she cried out. My vision was restored at once and I stood up, no longer in pain. Whirling to look back to An, I saw that she had fallen to the floor, claw marks now on her back.
Did the cat get her too? I dragged her through the balcony door and propped her up against the inside wall, yanking off my shirt and placing it in between her slashed back and the wall.
“Push backward – keep the pressure on it,” I told her as I sprinted down the stairs for help. I’d be no use for her staying up there.
I burst through the ground floor door greeted by absolute mayhem. A rhino, presumably from the gazelle chase, was charging at the hippo adorned with a rider throwing knives at the additional opposing raiders. He managed to down two of the swordsmen before dismounting. After the rider jumped, the rhino continued to collide with bone-jarring a smack into the hippo; neither falling. Guess we received some reinforcements as well, I thought, cautiously optimistic.
Realizing I had been of no use, I sprinted toward the nearest dropped bow. Running behind Acetate and Hyde who were now engaged with the bear, I grabbed and loaded the bow. Scanning the battlefield for a target, I spotted the dismounted rhino rider engaged with two foes – a swordsman and one of the eagle archers. I decided to assist him by taking out the archer. I fired my first arrow, missing the archer by a mile. My second shot was closer but still didn’t hit my target. I hoped at the very least I was helping by distracting the bird. The bird turned toward me as I was loading my third arrow. The archer began to change back into its human form to nock an arrow when I finally managed to get my third shot off. My aim was true and struck the archer, dropping him from the sky. Glancing up, I noticed there was another mysterious bird now engaged with the second eagle archer. I left them alone knowing I could hit my ally just as likely as I could my enemy.
I heard a yell and turned to see Hyde clawed to the ground by the bear. The bear reared up to finish him but Acetate sent a buffet of wind to move Hyde from harm’s way. In the sky, I saw our bird ally change into human form, grabbing the eagle archer. Now unable to stay in the air, they both crashed down and into the side of a hut. I hoped our ally would be able to walk after a fall from that height. It was now just Acetate and I standing on opposite sides of the bear. The sounds of the rhino and hippo grunting in the distance and the clanging of swords surrounded us.
“Stay focused my friend, don’t let your senses wander,” Ace winked and twirled his scepter. He made the first move, sprinting towards the bear. The bear returned charge less than a second later. I was frozen in my spot, clueless on how to contribute. Before the two were to collide, Ace sent a brief blast of air at the ground, jumping and clearing the reach of his attacker’s claws. As Ace landed behind the bear, he sent a stronger gust of wind to its backside causing the bear to lose its footing, forcing it to hit the ground. It recovered shortly after but was quickly losing patience. The bear began another charge towards Ace, who this time stood his ground. Once the bear nearly reached him, the King gusted himself to the side, dodging the bear. He then smashed the scepter down onto the bear’s snout causing the animal to roar in pain, swiping futilely at the scepter. The king then retreated and the bear attempted to follow but wasn’t able to keep up with a wind-powered Ace.
With my bow now at the ready, I waited for an opening. Ace gusted several feet back, missing another slash from the bear – this was my chance. I shot the arrow, watching it slide easily into the bear’s neck. It reared up in fury and locked its eyes on me – it was going to charge. It turned and was almost upon me as I readied my second arrow. The bear extended its claws toward me as I made my shot, hoping to stick the beast in its eye. I suddenly felt my feet fly out from under me, landing on my back, a sharp pain now in my chest. The bear continued over me, barely trampling me with its hind legs. I felt pain begin to sear through my body. I had survived. Ace must’ve blown my legs from underneath me, allowing me to sustain only a mild set of injuries. I rolled to the side just in time to watch the animal continue its sprint toward the king. Ace was able to dodge him with a cartwheel, his scepter hitting the ground and propelling him at least 10 feet into the air. Upon landing, I could see that Ace was beginning to tire. The bear must have sensed his fatigue as well because it charged him again with a newfound sense of energy. This time, Ace didn’t try to avoid him. He simply stepped back and began raining gusts from his scepter onto the bear’s face. It was at this time, I saw I had landed my shot; the arrow was lodged in the bear’s eye. The exchange between scepter blows and bear claws continued until finally Ace ducked to dodge a swipe. He quickly rose up after and thrust his scepter into the bear’s mouth just as it was roaring. Ace must have put his remaining energy into a blast of wind down the bear’s throat. I looked back to the bear to see that the bear was retching, beginning to change back to its human form. I crawled to pick up my discarded bow and readied it to shoot, aiming at the bear’s now-human skull. The half-bear, half-human stumbled, choked and fell over; fully human now, it vomited. My first arrow hit the pile of vomit. Thankfully the second hit its mark, finding its way through the man’s skull.
Silence filled the battlefield. I could only hear faint footsteps. When I looked, I saw that it was Anroma heading for the King; his body collapsed, his breathing shallow. Behind her, I realized the balcony we were on had fallen, leaving only a mass of crumpled materials where the door had been. Not sparing any time, Anroma placed her hand on the king’s chest upon reaching him; her other on the ground in a patch of thick grass. She closed her eyes and Ace jerked slightly, as if struck by lightning. The grass began to wither, shuddering as the green life was sucked from its roots.