This is part ten of my Astral Mage serial, following on from Battle!
The Vaal’kyr needed no further encouragement. They dropped from the sky, plummeting towards Draumir’s troops. The wraiths scattered, and darted away towards the distant mountains. The Vaal’kyr swooped to tear the enchantments from the war trolls before racing after the departing wraiths.
Artemuse dipped to get a better view of Draumir’s forces. The professional forces swarmed forwards to tackle the Statue Army. The militia mopped up the few individuals that broke through as stone maces tore open the air and Draumir’s knights alike. Further back, the war trolls, no longer bound by any loyalty to their lord, swung their clubs with indiscriminate force, knocking Draumir’s peasants flying. It looked as though Draumir had underestimated the Rhodenius forces.
But he’d have taken the city if I hadn’t roused the Vaal’kyr.
She looked for the dread lord himself, and found him attempting to hack his way through a water funnel controlled by the Queen. Artemuse worried about the Queen being in battle, but she was a powerful mage. Surely if anyone could beat Draumir, it was her. He swung his sword in all directions, but the frothing water surrounded him. The Queen shouted something at him, but Artemuse couldn’t make out the words.
Satisfied that the Vaal’kyr had neutralised the threat on the astral plane, Artemuse flew back towards the Rhodenius forces. The Statue Army were fighting onwards, cleaving paths through Draumir’s lines. Rogue elements had climbed the statues and were chipping at the stone, but war swords were not made for mining and the statues picked them off like fleas. The militia moved forwards, engaging anyone they encountered.
She spotted Mirage standing further up the slope, watching the battle. She flew towards him, and he snorted as she dropped back into her body. Her fingers curled into Mirage’s mane, and the solid mass of his body felt comforting after her time as an indistinct spirit on the astral plane.
“I think we’re winning, Mirage.”
The horse shook his head and pawed the ground.
“What do you mean? The Vaal’kyr have chased the wraiths and the trolls are taking out Draumir’s own forces.”
The horse whinnied and swished his tail. A cold rock of fear settled her stomach.
“Draumir has something else up his sleeve, doesn’t he?”
Mirage nodded. Artemuse spurred him towards the battle. He picked his way through the fighting, dodging swords and stepping neatly around dying men. The Statue Army had worked their way almost entirely through Draumir’s lines, although many of the peasants had fled across the plains.
Another battle horn sounded, this one low and sonorous. It chilled the marrow of Artemuse’s bones, particularly when she realised it came from inside the water funnel. She rode up to the Queen, and even her jubilant expression faltered.
“That was Draumir’s horn but who can he have left to call upon?” she asked upon seeing Artemuse.
“I don’t know.” She gave an account of all she had seen from the astral plane, and the Queen frowned as Artemuse described Mirage’s reaction.
“I fear this will not end well.” The Queen maintained the water funnel with one hand while sending ice flares into the sky with the other. Artemuse guessed she was recalling the Statue Army, and sure enough they lumbered towards them through the remnants of Draumir’s forces.
“By the stars, look!” Artemuse pointed towards the mountains. A massive white horse picked its way through the dead and dying, but the mages were more concerned with the figure astride the horse. Gunmetal armour glinted in the fading sunlight, the visor down on a helmet shaped like a raven, its wings curved around to hide the nightmarish face within.
The Queen snatched the water funnel away from Draumir and concentrated on firing blasts at the approaching figure. Every jet of water fell short, or missed its target entirely.
“You might be able to contain me with your trickery, but not him.” Draumir laughed, a harsh sound of razors on rusty metal.
“Water magic doesn’t work on the dead.” The Queen’s voice rang hollow.
The men who had been twitching in their final death throes clambered to their feet in the figure’s wake. They shook themselves, and stretched their dead limbs. The dead wearing the colours of Rhodenius remained unmoving on the ground.
“You still won’t take the city.” The Queen tried to sound defiant.
“Your Vaal’kyr are gone, and your statues can’t fight forever. Your militia will tire before my dead men will. True, you struck a blow with the war trolls, but they’ve grown bored and left the field,” replied Draumir. “Before I end your forces, I only have one question. How did you know we were coming?”
“I have many advisors who can see further than you can imagine,” replied the Queen, cutting in before Artemuse could reply.
“Hm. An unsatisfactory answer. And who is this whelp you have with you?” asked Draumir, finally noticing Artemuse.
Artemuse bobbed her head to Draumir as a mark of respect, but wondered at the Queen’s sudden denial of her abilities.
Arti, don’t be dense, she’s not telling him simply because you’re the only one who can stop him. Eddister’s voice sounded loud in Artemuse’s head, but when she looked around she couldn’t see the Guardian.
How? She mentally asked the question but tried not to look inquisitive.
Water magic doesn’t work on the dead, but astral magic does.
Of course! It’s the realm of the soul! Artemuse could have kicked herself for not realising it sooner.
Go to it, my sweet one. We’ll hold him off as long as we can but you need to destroy that necromancer.
Artemuse looked at the sky, and imagined the way it looked on the astral plane, shot through with purple and silver. She needed to get there using her body. But how?
Continues next week!