Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 89

Chapter 89: The Battle of Sandstone 1

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An eerie silence encompassed the ten defenders, they stood in a line facing south, peering out into the desert. The southern gate of Sandstone was a few hundred paces behind, where the Vanguard and Kyandre waited, out of normal sight.

Alejo stood in the centre, resplendent in his black and white armour, his white cloak fluttering behind him in the wind, the same wind which swirled sand around their feet and dissipated once it reached the wall. Kris stood at his shoulder, his long thing daggers already drawn, he twirled them around in his hands nervously. His black cloak clung to his body, wrapping him in darkness, he looked at the ground patiently waiting for his time to act.

Jansin stood, a score of paces to the Paladin’s left. No sand swirled at his feet, it slowly avoided him to his left and right or lay obediently by his feet. His wind affinity was in its element, high-speed sand would be destructive and almost unstoppable. Of all the defenders only Jansin was deemed powerful enough to stand alone.

On the opposite side of the leader, Tresten the black cloak captain, master of lightning took up position. He was flanked by two dagger wielding blackcloaks who fought with daggers, speed and agility. Between the three of them, any single enemy would be pressed by nimble, swift attacks interspersed with powerful bolts of lightning.  Whichever Myrkalfar drew them as an opponent was unlucky. As a team they were fearsome, the mock battles could not show their true capability, the lightning strikes were too powerful.

To Tresten’s right, another score of paces stood the difficult pairing of Akeeb and Filo. Chains lay at Akeebs feet, partially covered by sand. These black chains were a ranged and melee weapon rolled into one. It was difficult for anyone to get close to Akeeb, let alone with the assistance of the spritely Filo. Another blackcloak with a unique ability to bind her opponents. She normally bound and diced her opponents with her daggers, however, the synergy with Akeeb was apparent. They would fight in the same team in the annual tournaments, dictating the range of their opponents. Forcing an enemy to fight to their style and unless their opponent could break their control, they would lose.

And lastly to Jansin’s left, two blackcloaks who were masters at shielding and fought like demons. They had no unique abilities but were exceptional at all the necessary techniques. This pair had not come into the Vanguards sphere of interest, other than during mock battles, purely because there was nothing to learn from them. This did not make them any less capable. One wielded a two-handed staff, with heavy metal wrapping at either end. Where his partner used wicked twin knives, longer than the common variety amongst the blackcloaks.

The atmosphere was heavy with their determination. They were fighting not just for their own lives, not for the renown of defeating the Myrkalfar, they were fighting for their homes, their people and their families.

Benzhi could understand how this was significantly different to just fighting for your own life. When he fought for the Alpine Forest, his determination reached levels he did not think were possible. Perhaps this was the underlying reason Alejo left them out of the front line defence. From his point of view, the Vanguard was fighting for gain, where the whitecloaks and blackcloaks were fighting for everything they held dear.

It was hard to imagine any five qi warriors capable of defeating these ten.

Time passed, there was no boredom, no sense of impatience, the pressure was intense. The Myrkalfar were expected to walk into view at any moment and with this expectation, an hour passed in what seemed like an instant.

The first dark shape appeared in the dunes, obscured by dust devils the shape appeared no larger than a grain of rice. As time passed, exceedingly slowly at this juncture, the grain grew larger and more black shapes appeared, one by one until there were five. The scouts were accurate, it was the Myrkalfar penta.

Kyandre had educated the Vanguard regarding the tournaments and history of the convention of five chosen warriors. A group of five combatants in a tournament or battle such as this was known a penta. Why the Kingdom could and would send out ten chosen, instead of a penta, was they did not care. The protection of their city took precedence over following ancient rituals followed by the Myrkalfar. And in this, there was no governing body, nothing stopping them, only their honour. The Myrkalfar would not care, they would take on the ten, complacent in their assumed superiority.

As the Governor had indicated when news first reached them of the invasion. The Paladin cared more about protecting his people than anything. This included his perceived honour.

Despite their differences, there was not a lot that separated Benzhi from Alejo when it came down to their foundation values.

The Myrkalfar penta approached at a leisurely rate. The dark, ominous shapes contrasted with the sandy landscape while slowly growing larger. Adding to the dire atmosphere a bank of dark clouds rolled towards the city. The central figure was certainly the dread lord. It was either a trick of the diminishing light or wisps of black miasma emanated from the figure.  He was the first to appear and was larger than the other dark shapes.

As the five shapes slowly grew in size, their appearance was slowly revealed. Benzhi enabled qi sense to enhance his vision, a fae technique Gisael used to a high degree of proficiency, he was merely adequate, it was not a skill he practised enough.

He inspected their physical appearance before studying their qi core, circulation and any techniques they were currently using. He began with the Myrkalfar knight on the far left, who was facing the two blackcloaks. The knight's armour was impressive, as were all the Myrkalfar. Compared to the dwarven armour and the Paladin’s it was exotic. The material was unknown, it had to be some type of moulded metal, it was impossible to discern at this distance. The knight's armour covered his entire body, from head to toe. There were no gaps, the pointy helmet possessed a closed visor, red eyes glowed from within its dark recesses. The armour covering his arms protruded well above the actual shoulder into a point.

The same style continued throughout the design, greaves, gloves, breastplate and faulds. Each piece consisted of protrusions ending in sharp points. There were two tones of colour, each piece was a rackish dark blue interspersed with a grey metallic colour. He possessed a large kite shield in the same pointy style and a spear, with a large knife hanging from his belt.

Under qi sight, the knight possessed no aura, but Benzhi suddenly realised the aura from the dread lord encompassed a massive area. It spread well over a hundred paces and twenty past the furthermost knight. The knight's armour, shield and weapon, were all laced with qi patterns, whether that was his ability or crafted, Benzhi could not tell.

The second knight was armoured in a similar style to the first apart from the fact her armour barely covered half her body. Her breasts and midriff were covered, long faulds hung from her hips. Her boots were impressive reaching all the way to her upper thigh, they were predominately black leather from the knee up. She wore no pants, nor tassel, tiny black panties was the only thing she wore. She had no helmet either, a very long white ponytail attached to the top of her head waved in the breeze by her side as she walked. Two wicked blades were strapped to her lower back, their handles protruding above her hips.

Benzhi was not sure what her armour would achieve, if anything, until he viewed her under qi sight. She was encapsulated in a qi barrier which clung to every inch of her body.

To the right of the dread lord were two more male knights. One wielded a bladed staff, not unlike Reyas’ and the other a long bladed spear. Other than the dagger wielder, reach weapons were favoured by the Myrkalfar. The Myrkalfar knight to the far right was covered in armour similar to his counterpart on the far left. It too shone in qi patterns as did his bladed staff. The spear user’s armour was lighter and interspersed with blue and dirty white robes. He possessed a couple of daggers on his belt, presumably for close quarters and an option other than the spear.

It was not surprising that each of the Myrkalfar knights possessed qi weapons and armour. At this stage, Benzhi was unable to discern much else until they started using abilities they would remain unknown. They were talented and had excellent circulation, none of these facts was surprising.

They approached within a few hundred paces of the defenders, Benzhi began to inspect the most important foe. The Dread Lord.

  So far, nothing he saw from the Myrkalfar instilled any major concerns regarding the outcome of this battle.

The Dread Lord carried no discernable weapon. The first thing Benzhi noticed worried him and it only got worse. To carry no weapon meant, she was the weapon herself or she used unconventional means to defeat her opponent. And since she was the Dread Lord, their commander, it was foreboding what these means could be.

She wore a type of leather, it was shiny and skin tight. It left nothing to the imagination regarding her figure. Her arms were bare from the shoulder to her elbow showing a skin with a purple tinge. Alarm bells sounded in his mind when he inspected her hands, her nails were razor sharp, but that wasn’t it. It was the way she held her hand. She was ready to claw with those long sharp nails.

The concerns continued to flow, the Dread Lord had strange protrusions from her back. At first, Benzhi had not seen a weapon, now he saw two. Her claws, and these strange appendages, which consisted of segmented dark bone, they reminded Benzhi of a scorpions tail. Two protruded from her back, and they were almost six foot in length, however, he did not doubt they could stretch further, the segments looked to be coiled at the moment.

Finally, the aspect which worried Benzhi the most. It was not her claws, it was not even her strange scorpion tail like appendages. She had a third eye similar to Kebo. She could see everything, including him, hiding behind the wall. Normally Benzhi would be attracted to an exotically beautiful woman, no matter her race. It did not even cross his mind in the case of the Myrkalfar Dread Lord. She was a monster. In more ways than one.

Her qi pool was impressive, and it was no surprise her circulation was so complex and intricate from this distance she appeared to glow. He was not able to discern the extent of her circulation nor the concentration level of her core at this distance, she was almost six hundred paces away.

He shifted nervously, the outcome was no longer assured.

They were under orders not to intervene unless Kyandre deemed the battle was being lost, or if victory was assured, any casualties were to be rescued.

Reyas had her hand on his shoulder the entire time, seeing what he did through the link, her concern matched his. Kyandre was not perturbed.

“Do not worry,” she could feel the change in the atmosphere both figuratively and literally as the dark clouds rolled in, “we will be victorious. These are ten of our best, and as soon as they deal with the knights, they can all descend upon the dread lord.”

Anastasia agreed, “I feel their passion, their determination, the defenders are resolute. They will prevail, I can feel it. Alejo has depths yet unexplored, his aura will shield him and Kris from her. Kris will be able to deal a mortal blow, she is unprotected, and his qi strike is strong.”

Gisael was silent.

Reyas stroked Benzhi’s hair as she often did when showing affection, he was worried, and she was trying to relax him knowing it was driving him crazy not to charge the enemy.

The wind started to pick up as the dark clouds threatened to release a storm amidst the preceding battle. Sand flew between the two enemies facing off under the dark skies outside the city of Sandstone.

Other than the wind whistling through the gates and the rustling of sand across the desert there was no noise to announce the commencement of battle.

The four Myrkalfar knights simply charged across the three hundred paces separating the two groups. Their leader, the Dread Lord, merely walked forward at a leisurely pace, her aura creeping forward with her.

Within seconds the two groups clashed, however, Kris and the Paladin were left to witness the onslaught, the Dread Lord was still almost three hundred paces distant. They chose not to charge her, but watch their companions instead.

The Myrkalfar were a force of nature, there were no tactics, there was no finesse, the four knights brutalised their opponents. Every blow was soaked up by the knights who pressed forward with mindless determination as they dealt vicious strikes in return.

The bladed staff knight cut through Filo’s ropes with his weapon, slicing her connection and freeing himself. Akeeb’s chains smashed into him, the knight made no attempt to dodge, to stay out of range, he took the strike and shrugged it off, before bringing his staff down upon the chain user in a mighty overhead slice which cut through Akeebs protection and into his skull. He was dead within moments of the engagement.

The Myrkalfar knight turned to Filo who was panicking casting out stream after stream to lock the knight in place. He spun his double bladed staff and cut them all. He knew where the streams were, he could sense them. Filo was dead within a few heartbeats more.

The two unnamed blackcloaks, masters qi practitioners of nearly all combat disciplines lay on the ground. One was bleeding to death, the other impaled through the skull. Benzhi had not even seen this battle, it was over during the time he watched Akeeb and Filo’s demise.

Jansin faired little better, his sandstorm buffeted the dagger-wielding knight in panties. His sand flowed over her barrier dealing no damage. The only effect it had was to slow her down. Closing the gap she finally pounced on him, he tried to bring up a shield, which she sliced. Sparks flew, and his shield crumbled. Her next strike was through his throat, severing carotid arteries and the jugular vein, blood spouting all over the sand he once controlled. Moments later he fell face first into a pool of his own blood which was quickly disappearing as it was swallowed up by the sand.

Only Tresten’s group was putting up a defence, and even one of his group was down.

The Paladin turned to face the city, he waved, indicating they should run. He then turned back and charged the Myrkalfar Dread Lord.

Benzhi looked at Kyandre, she sat there stunned. She was supposed to give an order, but she was frozen in a state of inaction.

He stood, the Vanguard following his lead, they charged as one.

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