Chapter 91: The Battle of Sandstone 3
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The four Myrkalfar knights charged his companions, Alejo was pleased the Dread Lord did not charge as well. He could not believe she would allow her knights to be without her aura, the Myrkalfar’s lack of teamwork could be their undoing. The Dread Lords aura encompassed her entire penta and to deny it to them while in mortal combat beggars belief.
Due to his opponent trailing behind, Alejo decided to watch the initial stages of the clash between his companions and the Myrkalfar knights before engaging her. He was nervous, yet quietly confident at the same time, the foe’s arrogance would be their downfall.
The Knights did not engage in any sophisticated manoeuvre, they charged as one to their direct opponent. Four clashes began almost simultaneously, Alejo watched as the bladed-staff knight cut down Akeeb. He almost cried as
Labashi (unnamed blackcloak, Alejo knew his name)
Boktna (unnamed blackcloak, Alejo knew his name)
All fell in a matter of heartbeats. It was not a battle, it was a massacre. Only Tresten and his companions were able to withstand the initial assault and begin to trade blows.
Alejo had been in a situation like this once before when he developed his aura for the first time. Yet, even then it was not the route it was today, but the feeling of helplessness in the face of insurmountable odds was the same. For a fleeting instant, he considered running, laughing at himself, imagine the Paladin of Courage running from a fight.
He had two choices he could fight the knights here, or go to the source, the Dread Lord. Either way, he did not like his chances, but he would not run, he would die defending his city.
He turned and waved to Kyandre and the Vanguard, run, go, live. There was no point them dying on the field as well. He nodded to Kris, Kris nodded back. To think a rogue blackcloak would fight with him to the end.
Alejo ran towards the Dread Lord, he would finish her or die trying. If he could get into melee, perhaps Kris could strike a mortal blow under the cover of his aura.
The Paladin emoted his aura with his full power. He had been developing it for years, and the qi scholars of the capital rated it in the highest tier. It was ironic that when he acquired his aura, he was just a whitecloak hunting down a blackcloak rogue who had escaped justice for ten years.
The rogue was powerful, he had killed seventeen whitecloaks over the years and thus thought himself above the law. One day, several years ago, Alejo and his fellow whitecloaks had discovered the rogue holed up on the docks at The Reach. When confronted by four whitecloaks the rogue did not run, taking out one of them and injuring another, at which time his companions wanted to flee.
This was the very first time he had emoted his Aura of Courage, both emboldening his comrades and weakening the rogue. The act of taking down the most wanted outlaw in the kingdom and spontaneously emoting an aura is what made him a Paladin.
The ironic part was, his companion today was a rogue blackcloak, probably a top-tier thief. Kris spoke little and little was known about him, but he was here defending his city, and that made him the polar opposite of his murderous precursor.
The rogue blackcloaks were barely a part of the blackcloak organisation, they were drifters and loners. All Alejo knew was they were taken in for a service performed, or they paid dues. Otherwise, they had nothing to do with the organisation on the whole.
Kris trailed behind him closely, sheltering in the aura. It would be moments before they entered the Dread Lords aura and he knew to stay close to avoid being dominated by it.
They ran to within a hundred paces of the Dread Lord and her Aura collided with Alejo’s. It had a massive area of effect, Alejo smiled, this should diminish its potency, who could sustain such an area with any level power. It was impossible.
Every step closer to the Dread Lord the resistance, the pressure on his aura increased, it had started to shrink back towards him. Alejo focused, repeating his emote mantra to sustain his aura as best he could.
They were thirty paces from the Dread Lord, and Alejo found the pressure intense, he had to walk. Her aura enveloped his from all sides, pressuring, compressing. Kris was stuck on his back, although he could not see either aura, he certainly knew when he left Alejos, even if a foot slipped outside the area.
They closed to ten paces of the Dread Lord, the pressure was now unbearable. Although Alejo was maintaining his aura, he could feel the terror seeping through. It did not affect him, but he could feel it there, just out of reach.
“Welcome, do you mind waiting for a moment, it has just gotten interesting back there,” the Dread Lord spoke nonchalantly pointing behind them.
Despite being this close. Despite the deaths of all his companions and his last goal in life to kill the Dread Lord, Alejo was defeated by his curiosity, he had to look back.
He could not believe his eyes.
The normally quiet Kris said, “how the fuck.”
The Vanguard, as Benzhi and his companions called themselves, had not run. Why wouldn’t they run, this was not their city? They were fighting. Not only were they fighting, but they were also winning. Two and soon to be three Myrkalfar knights had fallen.
A new wave of inspiration overtook Alejo, they could win. All he had to do was to finish the Dread Lord.
He turned back to face her and lifted his hammer high above his head.
She looked past him, watching the battle, ignoring him. Arrogant bitch.
He charged although a charge through the thick aura was impossible, he put the effort of a charge into placing one foot in front of the other. With each step, his aura was pummelled with pressure. All he had to do was to get within three steps and lunge. It was like walking into a gale strength wind.
Kris cried out and fell to his knees. Alejo’s aura had collapsed, stopping at his skin, it now only protected him.
Kris was gripped by terror, he could not move, he could not think. He was caught in a nightmare of the Dread Lord’s making.
Alejo took one more step and lunged, he was determined to end this thing. He did not see the scorpion-like tails rise above her head and descend upon him. Not until they hit his armour, with his hammer held up high, ready to strike, they met his armour with a heavy impact.
Alejo’s armour was of the highest quality in the kingdom, certainly the highest quality in the whitecloaks. It was not even made in loctris it was imported at great expense. The engravings coupled with his qi strengthened the armour way beyond any mundane armour could achieve.
The Dread Lord’s tails penetrated his armour with ease, two sharp tendrils impaled him, with the tips protruding from his upper back. She lifted him high into the air and threw him violently, flying off the twin tails, bouncing and tumbling for forty paces across the sand.
Benzhi looked on in dismay as the Paladin was hurled through the air and tumbled end over end. He finally stopped, unmoving at the base of a small dune.
The link gave the Vanguard impeccable teamwork, timing and they could also handily communicate over a distance or in privacy from others. Now it was a sublime conduit for the aura which Anastasia had developed the previous night.
Benzhi was thankful that the only participants in the link were his intimate companions and Anastasia. Otherwise, it would be a highly embarrassing piece of information that was sent through every time Anastasia emoted the aura into existence. She had fallen in love with his beautiful soul. She had not understood his relationship to the Alpine Forest until she has read him. And when she did she was overcome with devotion. Her aura was many things, but devotion was what defined it.
Reyas and Gisael were not jealous, they were not upset, in fact, they seemed happy and wondered when this love would be consummated. When he explained to Gisael it wasn’t that sort, she was confused. He basically had to tell her he thought of Anastasia as a sister or mother.
Thankfully they let it drop. For now.
The Vanguard moved as one. Benzhi did not even look at Kyandre, he did not think her a coward, but without the aura, this fight was out of her league. If the Paladin could not withstand the Dread Lord, Kyandre had no chance.
The only reason the Vanguard suspected they had a chance was what Kebo had said. Anastasia had only one affinity, and it was empathy. A rare and powerful affinity according to Kebo. It also enhanced auras. If Benzhi’s healing and qi sight were any indications of an affinity enhancing an ability, then Anastasia aura was supercharged.
It was already evident, they feeling that came through the link was overpowering, the Paladin’s courage was minor in comparison. When Anastasia emoted her Aura of Devotion, it alone had a strong influence. However, the Vanguard was already founded in the protection of the Alpine Forest, Gisael had been a guardian protecting the forest for decades, Benzhi had taken his vow to Mother to protect the Forest to heart. It was the foundation of his new existence.
Given this foundation, the aura of devotion enhanced it exponentially. The will to protect was so strong that it clouded their judgement. Even the normally cold calculating Gisael was losing control.
The Vanguard glowed with the power of the aura all except Anastasia herself. As she was the source, the area of effect emanated from her, but when it travelled through the link, it filled her companions. Whether the link enhanced the power of the aura or not was unknown, and they did not have time to run tests. It was time do battle.
The four ran in a diamond, with Benzhi at the point, as usual, Gisael to his left, Reyas to his right and Anastasia two steps behind.
They swooped into the Dread Lord’s aura. It was immediately apparent, Benzhi could feel the terror dancing around outside, knocking on the door, asking sweetly to come in.
He doubled down on aura protection, adding his own aura-shield to Anastasia’s protective aura. Benzhi enabled all the qi body techniques he had mastered, strength, speed and agility except stamina he would use that as needed. On top of feeding his equipment with qi, he added a layer of his own intricate stoneskin and qi sight. No other in the Vanguard could maintain so many techniques at one time, and he still had the capacity for a shunpo or qi strike. He was only missing barrier on his shield, maintaining that and aura-shield was not possible with all the other techniques he was managing.
As they approached the Dread Lord, he could now see her qi core in detail. The swirling mass of qi was concentrated, and while complex it was apparent to Benzhi she had a larger pool than him by a factor of two. Other than the Myrkalfar Daughter and Kebo he had never seen such a qi core. And Kebo was a special case, the little blighter was one hundred percent qi core, he had no discernible circulation.
Benzhi communicated through the link as they approached, the Dread Lord had six small disc-like barriers which moved in front of her and possibly behind if needed. Each was the size of two fists, and from what Benzhi could tell, the weave of the barrier was intricate and immaculate.
It was a sound strategy, Benzhi knew he could not maintain a barrier that complex over a large area, it would drain your qi core quickly as well. By reducing the size of her barrier, the Dread Lord had increased its defensive power by threefold.
Benzhi came up with an initial strategy and burst towards to Dread Lord, Gisael and Reyas spread wide to the left and right. They would flank the Dread Lord as he attacked her head on. Anastasia would hold back and only come in if necessity or opportunity presented.
As Benzhi reached thirty paces, the Dread Lord began to speak.
“Well aren’t you…” she began. Did she expect them to halt while she chatted? All the while she would hammer away at their protection and discern their abilities. Hell no. Benzhi charged.
The Dread Lord did not look pleased, she defended herself from the first attack bringing her discs around and raising her tails high into the air. Her claws were held in front of her with her nails pointing towards Benzhi, she shifted one foot back.
Benzhi did not leap, he held his spear aim straight at her core and charged with all his speed, all his might. The spear slammed into a disc, a blinding flash accompanied a loud boom from the impact. Benzhi was held one pace in front of the Dread Lord as he leaned into the spear, he began to push and drill into the disc, it was tough.
The Dread Lord tested his defence with a claw to his arm, he was protected with qi armour and his own stoneskin beneath. Her nails scratched the surface doing no discernible harm.
The disc was breakable, his dwarven masterwork qi spear that Barrin had designed was a weapon worthy of the Grandmaster and his title. Benzhi broke through the disc, he intended to pierce her core and drain her forthwith, while she was distracted as Gisael and Reyas charged her flanks.
The spear was halted by another disc, Benzhi was not bothered, that was one less disc, and soon it would be two. Through the link, he was made aware of two things from his companions. The scorpion tails were about to strike him from above, and there were still six discs. Anastasia had counted them, using her qi sight, she could not make out patterns, but she could see the discs.
Damn the Dread Lord just created another barrier disc as soon as one was destroyed. Fuck.
He lifted his shield to block one tail and spun to his left to avoid the other. A tail was not a sword nor spear. It homed in on him. Benzhi shunpo’d away from the tail, he was not confident his shields could withstand her scorpion tail. The way it penetrated the Paladin’s armour so easily was a sign of how dangerous it was. He would avoid them as much as possible.
Just as he led the tail on a goose chase, using Anastasia’s shared vision to keep tabs on the other, Reyas and Gisael struck the Dread Lord.
Each was met by a barrier, Reyas swung her staff for a second blow, which was again was blocked. Gisael began a flurry of attacks, her twin blades thrashing exceedingly fast, almost too fast for the eye to follow.
The Dread Lords aura must do more than just terrorise. She was able to predict and block each strike from two separate flanks while watching Benzhi. As the tails retreated back towards his companions, Reyas jumped away, listening to the link.
Gisael was normally the one member of the Vanguard to keep her head on straight. But the aura from Anastasia was having a profound effect on her. Her desire to protect overwhelmed her common sense. It was as if one part of her core being was at war with another and the protector in her was winning.
She did not retreat as Reyas did, she kept searching for a weakness striking with each sword in flurries while changing patterns attempting to overwhelm the Dread Lord.
Benzhi saw the danger and charged the Dread Lord again, this time leaping into the air to enhance the strength of his strike and to distract the Dread Lord away from Gisael.
As he flew he could see the tails fly towards Gisael, she adeptly dodged one, sharing his sight, she moved to dodge the second, but a barrier disc impeded her. The Dread Lord had detached a disc and placed it next to Gisael, and when she attempted to move, she bumped into it. The tail flew down past her collarbone and into her chest.
Gisael refused to wear leather qi armour. Unfortunately, the tail sliced through her stoneskin with ease.
Benzhi roared as if in pain himself. He had never seen Gisael injured before, she was a rock, she was untouchable, the blow hurt the Vanguard mentally as much as physically.
Gisael was lifted off the ground as Benzhi descended, instead of bringing his spear down on the Dread Lord he opted to put his power behind his shield.
He collided with a barrier as Gisael was flung like a doll across the sand. She had been pumped full of toxin and was now discarded like trash. She flew and bounced with a painful crash across the sand, she rolled five times before coming to a stop in a crumpled heap. She lay unmoving.
Benzhi was distraught. Instead of attacking the Dread Lord further he ran to Gisael.
With his back turned the Dread Lord saw an opportunity to take down the leader of this most troublesome group. They were unaffected by her aura, which did not happen with beings little better than mundanes such as these were. It was her main weapon, and without it, she was reduced to fighting like a pathetic knight. She would deal with this leader now, who cried over one of his companions. It was a pity one so strong would succumb to such a pathetic weakness. But it was to her gain.
Benzhi dodged the tails with the help of Anastasia and Reyas through the link. He bent down to pickup Gisael, he did not have much time, and they would have to move away from the Dread Lord to heal her.
Up until now the Dread Lord had only walked nonchalantly. No one expected her to give chase to Benzhi at high speed.