Rage of the Old Gods, Chapter Twenty-one: Bridged by Fire and Ice

We come now to the twenty-first chapter of Rage of the Old Gods, the first book of my epic science fantasy trilogy the World Spectrum. In the coming weeks, I will be posting the entire book for free on this blog. If you’re just joining us, you can get caught up with the previous chapters now.

Cover art for The Gods march on humanity’s last bastion beyond the Gormorra Range. The land itself bars their way, but they are ready to unleash the full power that saw them viewed as divine. They will not, cannot, be stopped.

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Chapter twenty-one: Bridged by Fire and Ice

The machines’ retreat and the celebration to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Heart provided a welcome respite for Leha and her army. For a few days, they had been able to forget about the perils of war. But with the dawning of the next day, they knew that time had ended. They knew that the Automatons could come at any moment, and the air of the camp was thick with tension.

Sentries patrolled the edge of the camp, watching the marshlands to the west and waiting for some sign of their enemy. Leha joined them in their vigil, and hour followed hour as she scanned for the first sign of danger.

Just before noon, it came.

“Look!” a watchman to her left said.

She looked where he pointed. West and slightly south of the camp, she saw a bright, flickering light.

“What is that?” she said softly.

Word had already begun to spread. She heard her soldiers scurrying for their weapons and conversing in quick bursts. People with handheld bells sounded the alarm.

Leha squinted and enhanced her eyes to better see the light over the marshlands. Even with her vision enhanced, she had trouble deciphering its nature. It looked to be some sort of magic, and it seemed to be moving closer, but she could tell nothing beyond that.

She glanced at her assembling people, returning her eyes to their normal state. “I’m going to run out and see what I can see.” She gestured to a Tor battle wizard. “With me.”

She summoned Tyzu’s energy, feeling it course through her body, and darted out onto the plain, the wizard following close behind. A cold feeling settled into the pit of her stomach. Where the Automatons were concerned, unknown things were rarely good things.

The salty air whipped past her as she flew across the plain. Her hair streamed out behind her, and her feet kicked up rocks and loose soil. The ground began to slope downward and grow damp. She came to a stop. The battle wizard did the same a moment later.

Returning to Barria’s energy level, she again enhanced her vision and scanned the horizon, and the wizard extended his staff. The energy hovered over the distant western marsh, swirling and sparking and crackling. Beneath it, she could barely glimpse the dark forms of the Automatons.

“Can you sense anything?” she asked.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him shake his head. “They’re drawing a lot of power, but they don’t seem to be using it for anything.”

Leha frowned.

The machines grew closer, and the green-white light on the horizon grew brighter. She began to see details of the individual machines; they moved in a long, thin column across the moors.

She arched an eyebrow. They shouldn’t have been able to walk across the marshes. They should have sunk and become mired.

“How exactly are they drawing power?” she asked.

“As far as I can tell, they’re just pulling it up from the ground and releasing it into the air,” the wizard said.

Something clicked in her mind. “They’re freezing the marshes and rivers by pulling out all the energy. It gives them a path to walk.”

The wizard’s jaw hung slack, but he did not disagree.

Leha stared, awestruck, at the Automaton column. This was power. This was the might of the Old Gods in all its glory.

She funneled Tyzuan energy into as much of the machine army and its surroundings as she could, hoping to overload them. The cloud of energy above them blazed brighter, sending tendrils of crackling light across the sky, and the silver at their wrists burned like stars. But nothing else happened.

Leha swore under her breath. By now, nearly all of the machines were Wizard-Automatons. Many hands make light work.

She returned her eyesight to normal. “Let’s get back to the army,” she said to the wizard.

She channeled Tyzu’s power, and they set off towards the main human force. She continued to flood the Automatons with Tyzuan energy. If nothing else, it would slow them by forcing them to channel more energy, and there was always they chance that one of them might loose control and be overloaded.

* * *

The human army prepared for battle, as they had so many times before. Crossbows were loaded, javelins were readied, armor was donned, and swords were drawn. Leha and the other leaders ordered their people into a long crescent formation that would net the machines as they emerged from the marshes. Parties of Clanspeople were scattered around the area; they would catch any Automatons that broke through the formation or tried to avoid it. Barrian, Lost One, and ice creature wizards scattered through the ranks and readied their magic for use in battle. The mental link spread like webbing through the minds of the army.

Leha, now dressed in her leather armor and equipped with the blade Drogin had made for her, took her position in the front ranks at the center of the crescent. There, she waited.

A bank of dark clouds had begun to roll in from the north. It dimmed the sky and brought the scent of rain, but for now, the sun continued to shine.

Out over the marshes, the Automatons’ column had come close enough to be seen clearly by all in the human army. The energy above them roared and twisted like some insane storm, and the air around it shimmered with heat. The ground froze beneath their feet, forming frost that twinkled in the light of the energy above. Between the fire and the ice walked the Automatons.

A few ranks in, she could see the three-pronged crown of the Automaton Lord. The sight made Leha shudder. The air reverberated with the distant thunder of their footfalls.

She was reminded of the meeting she had called in Elder Sheen’s home, several months ago. She remembered saying that they could never hope to hold a fixed position against the superior might of the Automatons. She hoped she had been wrong. If they lost the eastern camp, she didn’t know where they would find another safe hiding spot.

The Automatons reached the last river before the edge of the marshlands and began to freeze it. As their efforts cut off the flow of water, the river began to flood its banks, and this water, too, was frozen, creating a great fan of sparkling ice that spread across the marshlands.

Soon, the Automatons would arrive on the plain. Leha and the other leaders ordered the battle wizards to attack, and a spray of magical strikes, enhanced by Tyzu’s power, burst from the ranks to hurl themselves at the machines.

Some of the swirling energy above the Automaton army twisted down into a curtain that wrapped around the front ranks and deflected the human spells. Leha brought the Automatons at the fore of the army down to Sy’om’s level of energy – it would make it easier for them to freeze the marshes, but it would also weaken their ability to protect themselves with magic. She was pleased to see that the sudden change caused one of the machines to lose its footing. It fell sideways, its bulk pushing it through the shield, and it landed in a pile of unfrozen muck. It twisted feebly in an attempt to rise.

The battle wizards reacted quickly, blasting the fallen machine with so much fury that even its lead armor failed to protect it.

The Automatons struck back, sending their own bursts of energy at the human army. The battle wizards did their best to block and scatter the assaults, but one finger of magic slipped through and slammed into the southern half of the crescent. Dirt, ash, and body parts flew into the sky, and a wave of hot air washed over the army, bringing it with it the smell of charred flesh. Some of the soldiers near where the spell had struck screamed. Their fellows in the link tried to calm them.

The battle between the machines and the wizards continued to rage. The roar and hiss of great magics boomed across the plain, and lights burst through the sky as spells and counter spells smashed into each other. The shield around the Automatons rippled and flashed as the battle wizards hammered at it. More strikes slipped through the defenses of the humans and their allies to carve holes from the ranks of Leha’s army and scar the plain.

Slowly, the machines moved closer to the edge of the marshes.

Leha frowned as she surveyed the situation. We should try the feedback spell, she thought.

She conferred with the other leaders, and they reluctantly agreed. Since the destruction of Drogin’s machine at Marlhem, they had rarely made use of the spell. It had always been unreliable, and the Automaton Lord’s ability to withstand it had done nothing to increase their confidence in it. But now, it seemed they had little choice.

Three battle wizards were given the order. They took control of spells sent by the Automatons and bent them back to their creators. Three loops of blinding energy took shape over the plains, emitting a high-pitched whine that set Leha’s teeth on edge. She poured Tyzu’s power into the machines while funneling the energy of Sy’om into the battle wizards.

The loops burned brightly, but the machines withstood it. Leha’s heart beat faster.

Two of the battle wizards began to scream, and their bodies burst into green-white flame. Their feedback loops failed, and the backlash ripped through the ranks of Leha’s army, killing all those who had been near the wizards.

Leha had not been connected to their minds directly, but she could feel the horror of those who had. She shook her head and struggled to maintain calm.

She reached out to the remaining wizard’s mind. Stop! she cried psychically.

The wizard broke off the spell, but the backlash still wounded him and several soldiers.

Leha felt the worries of the other leaders echo her own. Natoma, the most composed among them, did her best to radiate calm.

Leha refocused her attention on the machine army, hoping to find something positive. The battle continued much as it had. One spell managed to worm its way through the Automaton shield – Yarnig was behind it, she learned via the link – and cripple one machine. It toppled to the ground and was destroyed by further spells, but dozens more Automatons remained in the column.

The first of the machines reached the edge of the marshes, the shield dissolved, and they fanned out. Some were damaged by the attacks of the battle wizards, but most managed to defend themselves. Leha and the other leaders moved their army forward, bringing the prongs of the crescent in to flank the machines. The Automatons became too scattered for Leha to keep them all at one energy level, so she switched to channeling the powers of the other worlds as her people had need of them.

Those in the center of the crescent charged to meet the machines. Leha led them, running ahead of all others, her body gliding through the air. Even before she reached the first Automaton, she knew that things were not going well.

Her forces were too few. Too many had been lost in previous battles. They did not have the advantage of surprise, as they had at Tallatzan. The Automatons were not spread too thin, as they had been in the battles of the past days. Her people could not take advantage of the terrain. They had no forests to hide in, no high ground to take – at best, they might be able to drive some of the machines into the marshes. They had nothing to rely on but strength of arms, and in that contest, the Automatons had the advantage.

She tried to think positive thoughts. Her doubt would be poison in the mental link.

Her feet left the ground, and she landed on the cool chest of an Automaton. She dug in her claws and leapt a second time, landing on its featureless face. It attacked her with its magic, but a battle wizard summoned a shell of protective energy around her.

Her blade shot from its sheath, and she plunged it through the glass pane of one the machine’s balefully glowing eyes. The light went out.

The Automaton’s legs began to crumple, and slowed by the energy of Sy’om, it glided backward in slow-motion. Leha climbed onto the crown of its head. There, she screwed up her legs and jumped, flying over the plains to land on the left shoulder of another machine. She fluttered about its neck, sped by Tyzu’s energy as she weakened the machine with Sy’om’s, and attacked the supports of its neck. Stinging smoke and sparks flew as she worked.

The neck crumpled, and the head fell, the metal of the last few connections screaming. Her blade retracted.

She turned around, searching for her next target, and she saw the dark, towering form of the Automaton Lord charge for her. As she made to summon Sy’om’s energy and weaken it, it raised its fist and launched a bolt of energy at her.

Fear stabbed through her heart.

The battle wizards connected to her dropped what they were doing and pooled their energy to create a shield around her. The shield met the Machine King’s attack with a clap like thunder and a blast of heat.

The concussion sent her flying backward over the plains. She plummeted towards the ground. Just before she landed, she brought herself down to Sy’om’s energy level. She thudded into the rocky soil.

She pushed herself up with her hands. She would have bad bruises, but she had suffered no worse injuries.

She heard a clanking of metal behind her. She rolled onto her back and saw a lead-plated fist hurl itself toward her. She rolled to the right, and the Automaton’s fist slammed into the earth where she had been a moment before. She activated her blade and swung at the fist, severing its thumb in a spray of hot flame.

It raised its other hand. The silver at its wrist sparkled with magic. She made to dodge.

A length of rope spread between two silver globes passed into her vision and wrapped itself around the Automaton’s neck. The Clan rope pushed it backwards, and it crashed into the ground.

A squad of whooping Clanspeople charged in and attacked the machine with their narviks. Leha felt a rush of gratitude. Distracted by her own problems and other groups within the link, she had not been paying attention to this detachment. She poured Sy’om’s energy into the Automaton, and it was soon dispatched. The Clanspeople moved on.

She crawled up onto the chest of a ruined Automaton, feeling its unnaturally cold skin beneath the soles of her feet. She took in the battle raging around her, her vision enhanced by the knowledge granted to her through the telepathic link.

For now, her army held the Automatons at bay at the edge of the marshes, but they wouldn’t continue to do so for long. Already, the machines were close to breaking through the crescent. Once they did that, they would be able to flank the human forces or attack them from behind.

The only thing that had kept the Automatons from overwhelming them before now was the fact that more than half of the machines were still trapped on the narrow corridor across the wetlands. In their rush to join the battle, a few Automatons had lost their footing and become trapped in the mire.

Though slowed by Sy’om’s energy and squads of human soldiers, the Automaton Lord bore down on her, crushing everyone in its path. From where she stood, she could hear the screams of its victims.

With every passing moment, she saw the Automatons make more gains and felt more minds vanish from the link. At that moment, she knew the battle could not be won.

As soon as it arose, she fought to crush the thought, but it was too late. The knowledge spread through the army like wildfire, killing hopes and bringing doubt into the hearts of the soldiers. The other leaders were forced to admit their agreement with her, and the despair strengthened. Doga alone still held hope, and his shrunk quickly in the face of the others’ feelings.

Leha felt the heartbreak and disappointment pound at her like a wave. Her throat constricted, and she felt ready to weep. I’m sorry, she thought. I failed you.

The demoralized forces of humanity began to dissolve. The best efforts of Leha, Natoma, and the others failed to make them stand their ground. The Automatons pressed the advantage.

Leha’s heart ached. She wanted to fall to her knees and cry, to give herself to the drowning wash of hopelessness. But she fought against the sorrow and fear and forced her mind through the link, commanding her people to begin an orderly retreat. By strength of will, she turned her people from their mad flight and pushed them back into order. The other leaders added their efforts, and her army pulled together to fight off the attacks of the Automatons as they moved back to the tents of their camp.

The Automatons pursued them at first, nipping at the heels of Leha’s army and picking off stragglers, but then they fell back. They waited at the edge of the marshes for the rest of the machines to complete the crossing.

The clouds from the north had moved in closer, and now they blocked out the sun, bringing shadow to the barren plains. The wind picked up, whipping at the retreating soldiers with cold, damp gusts.

The army made it to the camp, and under the direction of their leaders, they began to dismantle it, leaving behind anything that they could. Leha and the others removed themselves from the link so they could discuss their next course of action. Leha sent her mind south, to the camp on the shores of the River Sheen, and contacted Benefactor. She sent him the knowledge of what had happened.

She sensed him set his jaw and felt a wash of anger at the machines from him. I am sorry, Leha. You did everything you could.

She sent him a wordless message of gratitude.

He connected his and her minds with those of Natoma, Doga, Eranna, and Drogin.

What do we do now? Leha asked without delay. She stood amidst a knot of hurried soldiers breaking the camp, giving what direction was needed with her voice and hands.

They quickly decided to abandon the plain, opting to make for the camp to the south. They also decided to leave behind a force to slow the Automatons advance and keep a watch over the machines. Doga and Eranna volunteered to lead the rearguard.

Leha nodded. Good. Drogin, Natoma, and I will head back to the south and start making further plans. She looked over her shoulder. The Automatons had nearly finished crossing the marshes. We don’t have time right now.

Benefactor broke off the link, and they each went about their next tasks. Leha collected a few things from her tent – the rest would be packed by someone else – and headed for the nearest jumping point to Tyzu. There, at the northeastern corner of the camp, she met Drogin, Natoma, and a handful of other people who would be making the journey to the camp.

Breena, one of those people, raised her staff. But just before she cast the spell to make the jump, she faltered.

Leha frowned. “What is it?”

“There’s no jumping point,” Breena answered, a note of worry in her voice.

Drogin pulled his wand from its sheath. “She’s right,” he said. “It’s gone.”

A gust of wind whipped Leha’s hair, but it was not the source of the cold that settled in her stomach. “They must have brought a barrier machine.”

Breena again raised her staff.

“What are you doing?” Leha asked.

“Scrying.”

The air in the center of the silver hexagon that crowned Breena’s staff shimmered. An image appeared in the empty space. It depicted the marshes from a bird’s eye perspective. At the rear of the Automaton column, a Urannan Sextamaton shambled forward. It looked weathered and beaten, and it seemed to have been the recipient of some hasty repairs. Atop its back, where its siege weapon should have been, a barrier machine had been fused to its armor. The rings of the barrier machine spun faster than Leha had ever seen before, and they glowed with a faint light.

Breena lowered her staff, dispelling the image.

Those in Leha’s group muttered to each other.

“Why is it glowing?” Breena said. “I have seen barrier machines before, but they do not run like that.”

The eyes of Leha and the others turned to Drogin.

Her brother didn’t answer immediately. He furrowed his brow in thought. “If I were to guess, I would say that they are attempting to increase the range it can cover. Depending on how much they’ve been able to enhance its abilities, they may be able to stop us from fleeing the camp to the south while they’re still many miles away from it.”

Leha’s shoulders slumped. “It would explain why they’re willing to take the risk of launching this assault.”

Natoma nodded.

A significant portion of the camp had now been cleared out, and the humans and ice creatures of the army had begun to head south. Leha empowered them with Tyzuan energy to speed their passage. From where she stood, Leha couldn’t see the machines, but she knew their army would be fully assembled soon.

Leha sighed. “We can still make it to Tyzu. We’ll just have to make a new jumping point.”

Breena shook her head. “No, we can’t. For the battle in the Mannall Range, they adjusted their machine to destroy all jumping points immediately.”

Leha swore.

“That might not be the case here,” Drogin chimed in. “If they’re pushing that machine as hard as I think they are, I doubt they’d add to its burden by forcing it to disperse jumping points quickly.” He frowned. “It’s not like we’ll be able to evacuate the eastern camp by makeshift jumping points.”

Breena looked to Leha.

“Try it,” she said.

Breena raised her staff. Drogin and the other wizards in their party added their own abilities, screwing up their faces in concentration. Leha summoned the energy of Tyzu to ease their efforts.

Green-white light enveloped them, and they entered the space between worlds.

* * *

Late that night, Leha leaned against one of the columns in the meeting chamber of the Clan hall. She closed her eyes, wishing she could sleep. Things had been hectic since their return to the camp below the mountains. They had performed the unpleasant duty of informing the camp’s residents that they were no longer safe, and they had begun organizing the evacuation. Even now, people were being herded to the jumping points and sent to safe havens on Sy’om or Tyzu.

The efforts were hampered by the damage inflicted on those worlds by the attacks of the previous winter. Many places that might have offered refuge before had been destroyed. Finding places to send people slowed things down significantly.

The news of the Automatons’ approach had nearly sent the entire camp into panic, and only the fact that such things had happened before, coupled with great effort on the part of Leha and her comrades, had kept a semblance of order in place.

On top of that, Leha had been occupied with aiding the forces still in the north. They had been unable to fight on the plain, so she had fueled them with Tyzuan energy for hours as they ran for rougher terrain, where they at least had a chance of slowing the machines. Once they’d reached the edges of the forests that seemed to cover nearly all the land beyond the Gormorra Range, they had finally been able to set up a resistance. At the same time, she had had to use her abilities to aid those groups trying to jump back to the southern camp. The effort of sending so many people had exhausted the wizards, and hundreds of people had been forced to stay with the rearguard.

The rearguard and the machines had skirmished off and on throughout the day and night, and Leha had given her abilities to aid that as well. She had considered rejoining the fight in person, but as Natoma had reminded her, she needed to conserve her strength for later battles. She would almost certainly have to defend the camp.

For now, the rearguard had moved ahead of the machine army and taken the chance to rest. Rather than being connected to the entire army, as she had been during the battles, her mind was connected to only Eranna, Doga, and Benefactor, who maintained the link. Through the Lost One and the Tor, Leha could see the orange light that illuminated the dark northern sky and smell the smoke that pervaded the forests. The Automatons were burning their way through the trees.

A few feet from Leha, Drogin and Natoma sat on cushions, their stooped forms showing nearly as much fatigue as Leha’s. To their right, Benefactor crouched in a kind of four-legged kneel.

Leha opened her eyes. She didn’t feel as tired as she had during the battles for the northern front, but she longed for her bed.

“I think we can assume that we will have to defend this camp,” Natoma said, breaking the silence. “The Automatons wouldn’t have brought the barrier machine unless they thought it had a strong chance of doing its purpose. We won’t have any chance of creating enough jumping points for our people to escape, especially once the machine army arrives.” She folded her black-sleeved arms – she had shed her plate armor. “So the question we face is not if, but how.”

Leha nodded, grimacing. She felt echoes of agreement from Benefactor, Doga, and Eranna.

Drogin stared at his fingers. Leha didn’t need to link with his mind to know that he was thinking hard.

He raised his head and ran his fingers through his hair. “I’ve been thinking; our situation may not be as grim as it seems.”

Leha raised her eyebrows.

Drogin continued. “The Automatons have sent everything they have against us, yes. We’re in great danger, yes. But the machines are taking great risks to do this. They’ve cut themselves off from any source of maintenance. They’ve left their settlements virtually undefended. They’ve put everything into this. What does that tell us?”

Leha leaned forward, feeling a thin ray of hope grow within her. “They’re desperate.”

Drogin nodded, the suggestion of a smile beginning to appear on his face. “Yes. My guess is that they spread themselves too thin on the northern front, and they decided they had to abandon the fight. Our victories there and at Tallatzan have them worried, and they’re going to put everything they have into this attack. If we can defeat them here, it could win us the war.”

Leha considered his words. Hope warred with fear within her.

A dark thought passed through her mind and Eranna’s at virtually the same time – she had trouble telling who thought it first: if they lost, it would likely spell the end of the human race.

Reluctantly, she spoke the thought aloud.

A tense silence followed.

“I’m sorry, but we need to know the stakes,” she said as her companions frowned and grimaced. “We cannot abandon the people at this camp, and if we fall, then our race will be leaderless. Those that survive will be hunted down. Even if they escape to Tyzu or Sy’om, the machines will find some way to destroy them, no matter how long it takes.”

She leaned forward and spoke with a strong voice. “That’s why we have to do everything we can to defend this camp. We have to win.”

Doga sent her a wave of agreement. We can’t lose hope. We defeated the Old Gods once before; we can do so again.

Benefactor agreed. We will fight to our last breath, he said simply.

Leha relayed their sentiments.

Natoma nodded.

They turned the discussion to the specifics of their defenses. They estimated that they had about a week before the Automatons arrived. In that time, they would prepare the camp for defense as best they could. Much of the trees around the camp had already been felled to fuel the forges and campfires, but they would clear more to create on open field where they would be able to easily see and target the machines. Much of the wood would go to constructing trebuchets and other engines of war – they were too clumsy to be of much use in the kind of guerilla war they had been fighting for the last few months, but when mobility was not an issue, they were effective weapons against Automatons.

Leha and the others realized they had one advantage in the form of the River Sheen. It cut across the path the machines would take, and it was long enough that the Automatons wouldn’t be able to circumvent it without wasting a great deal of time. Water was damaging to the machines; they would likely have to freeze it before they could cross it. That gave Leha’s people an extra layer of protection. They considered clearing the trees from the northern riverbank, but they realized that they could not predict where the Automatons would try to cross.

The battle in the Mannall Range had shown that Automatons could quickly turn Clan halls into bonfires, so the hall in the camp would be dismantled. Some of its parts could be used in the construction of the war engines.

The discussion then shifted to the topic of reinforcements. They could not strip the Clan lands of their few remaining defenders, but they did opt to recall Brodar and his troops from the Gormorra Range. There was no longer any need for them to guard the passes. They would jump back while they still could.

My people could likely spare a few more warriors, Doga offered after they made the decision about Brodar. It may leave some villages vulnerable to Stassai and other predators, but it will be worth it if we are victorious.

They may come if they wish to, Leha replied, feeling guilty for asking so much of the Lost Ones.

There were other topics to discuss, but they were all tired, so they decided to retire for the night. Leha felt confident that she would be awoken and required to lend her powers to the rearguard at least once.

* * *

Her confidence proved well-founded. Twice in the night, she was awoken to aid the rearguard. When she rose and began her day, she felt nearly as tired as she had before she had gone to sleep.

Before the sun even crested the horizon, preparations for defending the camp were already underway. Drogin and his people went to work constructing weapons and armor of every size and description. The trees around the camp crashed to the ground and were chopped into usable pieces. Brodar arrived and added his people to their forces. Natoma put many of the noncombatants to work building earthworks around the camp – they would not provide much real defense, but every advantage helped, and it gave the people something to do besides worry. Food and water were stockpiled. The sound of people at work provided a backdrop to life in the camp.

Skirmishes between the rearguard and the machines regularly interrupted Leha’s life. Eranna and Doga found they could barely stay ahead of the machines, let alone slow them down in any real way. Midway through the second day after the battle by the ocean, it became clear that the rearguard could do no good, and they focused their efforts on reaching the camp before the machines did. Leha did what she could to speed their journey.

Later that day, Breena approached Leha with an idea.

Leha had been overseeing the construction of the earthworks, giving encouragement to the increasingly frightened and agitated civilians. The day was hot, and she was sweaty. A fair amount of dirt had stuck itself to her clothes and her sticky skin. The air smelled of freshly churned soil.

“You’re familiar with wards, yes?” Breena said after offering her greetings.

Leha nodded, remembering the wards that had been placed in Three Gates to slow the Tor army.

“They are not much used by the Clanspeople, but over the past few months, I’ve learned they are a very common type of magic among the southern nations. Wards are generally not of use against Automatons because of their lead armor. We can’t directly do them harm with wards, but I think we might still be able to make use of them.”

Breena took a breath before continuing. “Wards are essentially spells that activate when someone stumbles into them – any spell can be used. We can’t use an offensive spell, but if we use a small shield spell, we can create a bubble of energy beneath the feet of any machine that steps on the ward. Their lead armor will be repelled by it, and they won’t be able to keep their balance.”

She shrugged. “It’s not much, but it might help.”

Leha nodded and gave a little smile. “It might. We’re going to need every advantage we can get. I’ll get the other wizards working on these wards.” She smiled wider. “Good work.”

Breena smiled back.

Later on, Leha had an idea of her own. She approached Drogin as he oversaw the dismantling of the Clan hall and broached the possibility of creating new feedback weapons, like the one they had used at Marlhem.

Drogin thought it over and came to the conclusion that they could be built. Between what they had salvaged from Automaton wrecks in recent weeks and the remnants of the Clan hall, they had unusually large stores of silver and other metals.

After a bit of discussion, Drogin also said that, with a few modifications to the design and some watchfulness on the part of the operators, they could probably prevent the Machine King from hijacking these like it had the first one, though he didn’t think he could build one strong enough to actually use against the Automatons’ leader. Leha thanked him.

Before she left, she complimented him on the speed at which his people had been able to produce weaponry for the battle – the first trebuchets were already nearing completion.

To that, he replied, “You can get a lot done if you don’t bother to sleep.”

That evening, as the sun began to fall behind the peaks of the Gormorra Range, and the air began to cool, the barrier fell into place. In the space of a few minutes, the jumping points vanished, and the evacuation ended. They had been able to evacuate more people than Leha had expected they would – including all of the children, the infirm, and the pregnant women – but a few thousand civilians remained.

For the barrier to already be affecting them, it had to cover an incredible amount of land. Drogin put it into perspective, saying, “If the machine was in Eastenhold, the barrier would probably cover the entire nation.”

Leha looked toward the north and tried not to shiver.

———————

Enjoying the story so far? The next chapter will be posted soon, but if you can’t wait, you also have the opportunity buy the full ebook now!

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