Assault on the Demon Wood
Wallik's mind filled with panic and he began to dash towards the smoke, frightened that one of his brothers had been injured or killed by the fire. He desperately wished that his Guardian, Maren had not been delayed retrieving a fresh Qi stone for him. He was not sure how much Qi remained in his current stone, should he need to use it to douse the flames, and he definitely wanted the support of his exceptionally sturdy companion.
Wallik saw a figure making its way in his direction and he picked up the pace to meet with him. As Wallik drew closer he could see that the figure was Marilus. He let out a sigh of relief, but as Marilus came closer still Wallik could see that he had blood on him, more blood than Wallik had ever seen, and one of his legs seemed to be twisted in a way that made Wallik's stomach churn.
"Run Wallik", he could feel Marilus communicating to him through the catalyst, his thoughts drenched in fear.
"What's going on Marilus, what happened to you?"
"Tainted brutes Wallik, their inside the forest, hundreds of them"¦"¦ Alas and Yoron dead", Marilus's mental voice became hazy as he was overcome with emotion, but then resolve hardened his mental words. "We have to warn the Mother."
Wallik was dumbfounded; if not for Marilus's injuries he would not have believed his young subordinate's words.
"What! Where? How could?"
Wallik's thoughts returned to him and he was overcome by a strange, almost unnatural calm.
"Alright, come to me and we'll warn the Mother togeth .."
Wallik saw one of them; it came violently crashing through the undergrowth behind Marilus. The brute was massive, covered in strange grey clothing, made of a material Wallik had never seen before and containing a mania in its eyes that shook Wallik to his core.
"Marilus behind you!" Wallik shot as he reached for the depleted power contained within his Qi stone and began to focus it.
Time seemed to slow for Wallik as the rabid brute drew closer to his helpless friend and Wallik formed his Qi into white hot globe of fire and cast it at his enormous enemy.
Barely an arms length from Marilus the projectile caught the rabid brute square in the chest and passed through him, leaving a gaping void in its wake, causing him to die instantly and fall forward onto Marilus. The young Hunter let out a brutal cry as his injured body was pinned under the massive adversary.
"Just hold still Marilus, I'm coming to get you."
Wallik began to move closer to his trapped companion but his spirits sank as several more tainted brutes emerged from the trees behind Marilus. Panicked, Wallik drew every bit of Qi from his stone and began to cast spears of fire at the assailants, some that struck home and some that did not, but with every one he killed it seemed that two more would take its place.
"Go Wallik, warn the Mother." Wallik heard Marilus's plea but could not bring himself to abandon his friend.
"I won't .." Wallik tried to respond while concentrating on focusing his Qi.
Wallik could feel it before it hit; he could sense that Marilus was drawing all of the Qi from his own, almost full, Qi stone and focusing it.
Realizing what was about to happen Wallik turned and ran.
The shock wave struck him so hard it knocked him off his feet, but his mission clear and no reason left to stay; Wallik quickly regained his footing and began sprinting towards the city with tears in his eyes.
"See to this personally Eldest", the Mother said as Sid's messenger left the audience chamber, "I do not want my forest damaged further"
The expression on the beautiful pale face that shone within the frame of vivid red locks made Heton wince.
"And if young Marilus is responsible for this through his rebellious actions, I want him brought directly to me."
"Yes Shea my love", Heton responded as he dropped to one knee, trying to brighten the spirits of his furious partner, "no damage will come to the forest if I can prevent it, I give you my word, and if that fool hunter is responsible he may accidentally die in the fire, we cannot afford to have irresponsible dissenters among our children."
The Mother's eyes brightened, causing Heton's to do the same.
"What would I ever do without you", the Mother said, her expression changing to a slight smile as she placed a soft kiss on the forehead of her mate. "Go fulfil you word, and do what you think is necessary."
Heton rose to his feet, turned on his heel, and left the small audience chamber, his fine white cloak bellowing behind him. As he made his way through the maze of halls and stairways that would lead him out of the palace, he began calling Servants to him and sending them on errands in preparation for the upcoming conflict against the fire.
"You, go the Gardeners hall and fetch me five Gardeners with full Qi stones, quickly."
"Yes Eldest", the startled Servant responded as he jumped to fulfil his duty.
"You, inform Sid and Antalin that I am going to address this issue personally.
The startled Servants ran to fulfil his orders as the Eldest hastily made his way out of the Mother's Tower, through the decadent courtyard that lay in the midst of the four green towers of the Mother's Palace, through the immense jade palace gates, over the White River, and into the Great Square.
Contrary to his brave words Heton was worried, containing a fire was not as simple a task as he wanted the Mother to believe and the damage to the forest could already be significant. And that boom he had heard, what could have possibly caused that.
The Eldest tore his mind away from his worries as he was met by Sid and Antalin, the slender, green cloaked, head of the Gardener Caste, replacing it with the cold authority required for such times.
"Where do we stand?"
"I have dispatched a runner to assess the severity of the situation, he should be returning shortly. I also have all Hunters in a state of high alert, should the Gardeners require our help", Sid responded, his voice serious.
"And I have forty Gardeners ready to accompany me, as well as the five you requested. We were planning to move out the moment Wallik returns", Antalin concluded, his demeanour a mix of sadness and resolve.
"Good, I want the Gardeners and Hunters assembled in the square as soon as possible, and send a runner to fetch Nethen, we may need the help of the Overseers if the situation demands it."
Distracted by a noise Heton turned his head to see Buris, Sid's second, come sprinting up to the small council, slide to a stop, and address Sid.
"Elder", Buris bent over to catch his breath as he communicated "Wallik has returned, but something's wrong, he's saying crazy things about tainted Brutes. You must hurry; he's in the Hunters great hall."
Worry once again seized Heton. This was different though, tainted brutes inside the forest could ruin everything, but deep down the thought of battle began to make Heron's blood boil.
"I want all of your available men assembled before I finish speaking with young Wallik", the Eldest snapped as he began to run towards the Hunters Hall, flanked by his great white cloak.
Nethen's head was throbbing, the loud boom earlier hadn't helped and the pounding on the door of his dark office was making it worse.
"What!" Nethen yelled as he jerked the door open, the light from the outside almost blinding him "what could possibly be so"¦"
Nethen stopped when he saw the fear in the eyes of the young Overseer.
"Nethen, Elder, the Eldest has requested you, something's wrong, one of the Hunters is saying something about tainted brutes inside the forest, the Hunters and Gardeners are already assembled in the Great Square and .. and .."
"Calm down Younger, go and find Fore, tell him to send the order that we're bringing all of the brutes in from the fields and assembling them in the Great Square, as long as we act quickly everything will be alright, now go."
The slight youth's eyes caught a fire of purpose and he ran from the hallway eager to fulfil his duty.
"Guardians to me", Nethen called out through his catalyst as he walked back into his office to retrieve the blue cloak that signified his status and moments later six massive brutes emerged from the room adjacent to his own and waited.
Issuing orders to one Overseer or another Nethen made his way from the Overseers Hall and into the Great Square, his brute entourage fallowing closely behind him, there he was met by Fore.
"Nethen what is going on, what is this foolishness Oris is spewing about bringing all of the brutes in from the fields, does he have any idea how much work that would take."
Anger built up in Nethen.
"Idiot younger, when I give an order I expect it to be obeyed, one more word of decent and I will make sure the Servants hear of it, now get your fool legs moving and do as your told."
Fore stood there with a pitiful look on his face.
"But .. Elder."
That was all Nethen's throbbing head could take, lashing out in anger Nethen formed his Qi into the brutal lash he used to discipline his brute charges and laid it across the back of his insubordinate second.
"NOW GO", he communicated through his catalyst, so intensely he could see the pain on Fore's face.
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© S. Michael Pitt 2009