Unbreakable: Part Four
Brynn took a deep, steadying breath as she tightened the straps on her gauntlets and slid the protective coverings over the normally open toe of her boots. Exposed hind claws could be of great use in situations that involved climbing or facing enemies who wore little armour, but where she was going, they would only serve as a liability.
Today I lead Faerieland's finest against General Hirok's forces, and we will assert our right to our home.
Or lose it for the second time in as many years.
The metal covers clicked into place as beside her, Lieutenant Rallon grunted and pulled taut the binds that secured what little armour could be stretched across the front edge of his wings. He spat out the strap and flexed his wings to test their light plating before turning his eyes on her.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
In response, Brynn hoisted herself onto the saddle. "As ready as any of us can be."
Rallon took off at a trot down the field. The outer lands beyond the far walls of Faerieland had already filled with as much of the guard as could be spared. The kingdom was vulnerable from its position mired in the lowlands of a crater; its best bet would be for the Faerielanders to drive away the invading force before it could reach the city gates.
The camp was a flurry of activity as knights, mages and other guards focused on their final preparations. Even the diminutive minor faeries, who would be spending the battle behind city walls and away from their larger, more powerful enemies, flitted back and forth as they granted blessings to any warriors they could get their hands on.
"I grant you the ability Diamond Dust. May you blind your enemies in justice and halt them in their tracks," one tiny voice whispered in Brynn's ear, while an accompanying tingle of magic suddenly washed over her. She wished it hadn't. She had never been any good with magic, and even using her blessings took far more focus and energy than they were worth. The Kougra found it much more beneficial to rely on her sword and armour, and let the minor faeries lend their spells to the more arcane-inclined.
"After all, magical enhancement isn't a skill limited to your people... Oh. Right."
Brynn shook the memory from her thoughts and nudged her Uni into a canter. A shadow passed over the pair and she caught a streak of yellow overhead – Aethia and her own trusted steed, the Battle Eyrie Adrian, had joined the throng.
Ahead, a flash of light and lavender smoke signalled the arrival of Queen Fyora. The queen would be spending the battle itself at the city walls, lending her magic to its protective shield and poised to aid the ranged fighters that would defend the border if the main body of the guard failed to push the invaders back in time. For now, though, she hovered a few feet above the earth and looked over her gathered forces as they completed preparations and drew together.
Adrian alighted on the ground a little ahead of Rallon and trotted up to Queen Fyora on all four paws – a movement that, while unusual for most non-Uni pets of the modern age, seemed natural for the stalwart Eyrie. His rider exchanged a few brief words with the queen, but Brynn was too far away to catch what they were. Rallon, meanwhile, slowed to a stop near the front of the assembly. Aethia and Adrian joined their Captain and Lieutenant after a moment, and all of the congregated forces trained their attention on the sovereign before them.
"My faithful subjects," Fyora's voice rang out, "today we gather together to defend our home against those who would tear it down and drive us away. We go up against a man who refuses to help a kingdom in need, who gains followers by painting that kingdom as in the wrong, who seeks to overpower us by breaking not only our city but our spirit.
"But his attempts will be in vain! Faerieland is an unbreakable spirit, and we will show the Haunted Woodsmen what it truly means to cherish and protect one's home and people. The battle will be fierce – they have been able to promise us this much. But this we promise them in return, for we are strong, we are brave, and we will not back down!"
A ghost of a smile graced Brynn's lips as the Faerie Queen raised her sceptre and the soldiers erupted into cheers. Rallon pawed the ground in anticipation, while Aethia drew her legendary blades and slashed the air.
The excitement could not last long, of course. Too soon, the shouts of the warriors died down as they looked on to the forest boundaries ahead. Brynn looked with them, eyes narrowed as she focused on the shadows that began to darken and shift even as she watched.
A silent nudge signalled Rallon to turn so that he and his rider faced the rest of the guard.
"Everybody, into your positions!" she barked. "We're not about to let the enemy take us down by surrounding us from the outset, are we? Move!"
The vice captains stationed throughout the assembly quickly relayed her orders to those further back, and the guard began to spread across the field. Satisfied, Brynn returned her attention to the western boundary of the forest.
As the first of the Haunted Woodsmen emerged, the Kougra had to hold back a gasp. There was something sickeningly familiar about those shadows, which had far more substance than they should have as they detached themselves from the shade of the trees, and she could just make out a pale purple undertone beneath their writhing masses.
Beside her, Aethia's eyes widened. "Wraith pets... He's filled his entire front line with wraith pets," the faerie murmured. "I don't know whether to call that brilliant or just plain low."
Rallon snorted. "I'm rather inclined to go with the latter."
At the head of the line of swirling shadow, a spot of muted jade became apparent. Hirok didn't seem to be alone, but the figures with him were harder to distinguish against their dark backdrop.
Queen Fyora turned to her heads of combat and gave them a slight nod. She lifted off the ground with a soft beat of her wings, and she, Rallon and Adrian started forward.
* * * * *
The mutant Draik's expression remained neutral as the small party approached him. He was with two others – his steed, a surly-looking Halloween Uni, and a dark faerie who hovered beside the riding pair and seemed all too pleased at the prospect of engaging in a war against her own homeland. Brynn's eyes drifted over these apparent officers and strayed toward the masses of shadow behind them for a moment, but she forced back the old memories and fixed her gaze on Hirok and his companions as the Faerielanders and the Haunted Woodsmen met.
"General Hirok," Queen Fyora started, "we can stop this. Here and now."
Hirok's eyes narrowed slightly. "I agree," he replied. "Just move your city off of our land, and we will have no reason to fight."
Fyora's tone remained even. "You know that we cannot do that yet. Until Faerieland is stable enough, no amount of magic will keep it afloat without the entire city falling apart. Can we not simply share the land until my kingdom is ready to be transported?"
The Draik appeared unmoved; it was evident that he would not accept compromise. Aethia snapped, "This isn't a game, Hirok! Can you seriously be so foolish as to threaten the Faerieland army?"
General Hirok's lips curled into a knowing smile. "'Foolish?' Must you really be so quick to boast your prowess? My, what little time it takes faeriekind to forget how swiftly and easily it once fell." His eyes flicked over to focus onto Brynn.
"I'm sure that at least your Captain still remembers."
Brynn met his gaze. "Of course I remember. We both know that the faeries are not omnipotent, which is exactly why your demands can't be met at this time."
Hirok seemed to consider this for a moment. "Hmm. A sound argument... If I had reason to believe it."
The Draik's attention shifted back to Queen Fyora. "There has been more and more talk of late. Talk that your people want to remain here permanently, and some of it comes from their own mouths."
"Mere rumours," the queen responded. "Even if we decide to remain on the surface, you may rest assured that we will seek out new land that is unclaimed by the Haunted Woods or anyone else."
"And just how long do you plan to dally before that happens?" the general hissed. "I am no fool; my scouts have reported, and I can even see from here, that your city is in a fine working condition."
"Surface appearances and basic working order are hardly synonymous with the kind of internal stability needed to transport an entire kingdom, General. We needed our buildings to function before we could even think of lifting them off the ground, and we are still working on the latter."
"So now your building standards are indistinguishable by sight? How convenient."
A rare edge found its way into Fyora's tone. "How is this so difficult for you to accept? The Maraquans took twice this long just to get their kingdom back in order again!"
"While building from scratch, in secret, and without the aid of faerie magic!"
"And with the added support of an underwater environment, and no need to eventually transport the buildings."
"Enough of this!" Hirok roared. "Glory Hollow is my home, and I will not be put off from claiming it any longer! I don't care what kind of damage it causes – you will remove your city and its people from this clearing today, or I will march in there and tear it down myself."
Silence fell, if only for a moment. Queen Fyora's expression went darker than Brynn, and she rather suspected most people, had ever seen it. "I see we really have no choice, then," the Faerie Queen said. She raised her sceptre and levelled it at the Draik. "I will be waiting for you at the city walls. For your own sake, pray that you do not reach that far."
Another flash of light and the Faerie Queen was gone. In the next moment, the Battle Eyrie shot into the air with Aethia. Brynn hardly paid them any mind – this was a part of the battle tactic the two heads of guard had discussed in the days previous – but Hirok snarled in outrage and spurred his Uni up after them, leaving Brynn and Rallon alone with the dark faerie.
The faerie spared a glance after her leader's retreating form, and then broke into a playful grin. "Looks like I'll be leading the charge, then," she said. Her gaze flicked toward Brynn, who drew her sword as she kept a cautious eye on the opposing officer.
All at once it happened. The dark faerie threw her hands forward, and Rallon reared in defence of himself and his rider – clinging to the reigns, Brynn heard him grunt as his chestplate took the brunt of the spell's attack, followed by shouts all around as the shadows lurched forward in one great mass.
The battle for Glory Hollow had begun.
To be continued...