“Alright, hold your-” Armin started to say, peering around the column to look for the aggressors. An explosion rocked the room before he could even get out the word ‘posistion.’ Shards of stone flew into the room, shrapnel knives that spun through the air and were embedded in pillars and treasure. Armin staggered back. His forehead stung, and he brought up a hand to touch his temple. It came away wet with blood.
Already? He thought, dazed by the injury happening so quickly into the fight. Ears ringing, he dared to look again at the entrance, his heart pounding with fear for Aldredia and Ossman.
The gold throne, the scepters that had been supporting it, and the treasure that lay atop them all had been mangled beyond the point of recognizability by the unlight blast. Tiny bolts of unlight danced along their surfaces, but they had been reduced to a golden slag that formed a small hill in the entranceway. The barrier they had struggled over, reduced to rubble in mere seconds.
Ossman was standing up. His eyes had an unfocused look, but he was alive, and Armin couldn’t see him bleeding. Aldredia hadn’t lost her feet, but she was bleeding from her left arm, and her excitement had given way to a grimace of pain.
The only blessing Armin could see was that the Alohym soldiers had needed to pull back to detonate the arccell and blast their way into the room. That gave everyone time to recover from the shock of the explosion.
The passage was wide enough for the Alohym soldiers to approach in groups of six. Armin could see them coming out of the darkness in the hallway, clad in imperimail. Their suits were black with glowing unlight lines running along the arms and down to their gauntlets and greaves, lines that converged in the center of their back where the arccells rested. Their helmets were large and wedge-shaped, a look Armin had always thought made them look like cheap imitations of their masters.
Armin gritted his teeth as he took aim at one of the approaching soldiers and pulled the trigger. A beam of crimson light leapt from his arcwand and streaked across the room to the lead soldier. The hit was direct, the helmet exploding under the impact. The soldier blessedly crumpled to the ground before Armin could see what the beam had done to the man’s face.
He was a traitor, Armin reminded himself, pointing the arcwand at another soldier. Guiart’s blast came from above, dropping a soldier to his knees but not stopping him outright.
The Alohym soldiers began to return fire. They weren’t taking the time to carefully aim, instead spraying unlight beams in the direction of their aggressors. It wasn’t an attempt to actually kill them. Armin pressed his back against the pillar as an unlight bolt cleaved a chunk of stone away from where he’d been a moment ago. Covering fire. Just enough to keep them from being able to take return fire as the soldiers entered the room.
“Clarcia, now!” Armin shouted.
The young Lumcaster poked her head out from over the pile of treasure she’d taken refuge behind. Her hand spread outwards, and a screen of light cut off the soldiers that had managed to breach the chamber from their reinforcements.
Ossman and Aldredia were free to act now. Moving almost as a single entity, they stepped out from behind the doorframe, axe and blade raised.
Two Alohym soldiers fell before they even realized they were under attack, Ossman’s unlight axe flashing through the air to sever one’s arm at the shoulder. The free limb flopped to the floor as the soldier screamed and clutched at the stump. Aldredia’s arcblade slashed parallel to the ground, a soldier barely turning as she attacked. It spared his spine from her attack. Unfortunately for him, he blocked the blow with his throat.
Then Armin had sighted his target, and he was pulling the trigger on his arcwand again, and the battle raged on.
Armin was dimly aware of the soldiers outside the barrier placing arccells. If they broke through Clarcia’s wall of light before they were done in here…
An unlight beam brought Armin’s attention back to the immediate problem. It cut through his sleeve, tugging at the cloth and burning a neat hole less than a knuckle from his arm. He fired back in the direction it had come from. Shock made his shot go wild. His hands were shaking. Armin was a sniper. He was used to battles where he was high and overseeing the whole battlefield, and rarely was in danger himself.
Guiart managed to down another soldier, and Aldredia and Ossman killed two more. The soldiers weren’t armed for close quarters combat. At least, not these soldiers. The ones outside the barrier were pulling out their own unlight blades, getting ready to charge.
The last soldier that had made it inside dropped with Ossman’s axe in his skull.
There were easily two or three dozen outside. Possibly more, Armin could tell. Ossman had been injured in the fight, an unlight burn across his left thigh. Aldredia had gained no new wounds, but her hair was plastered to her head with sweat. Armin glanced over at Clarcia.
“On my mark, invert the barrier’s curve.”
Clarcia’s eyes widened with Armin thought was surprise, but she nodded. He glanced back at the soldiers outside. “Everyone, get back to your positions. Now. Clarcia, move three spans to your left. Aldredia, Ossman, move further back from the door. Nice shooting, Guiart.” He did his best to sound flippant. This was just a fight. No big deal. They’d been through worse.
He lowered his hands so they wouldn’t see how they trembled. The troops outside began to back up. “Now!” Armin said.
Clarcia held out her hand, and the barrier she had erected turned into a crescent shape that bent with its points facing towards the soldiers outside. The unlight explosion was shaped along the barrier’s curve, the brunt of the shockwave shaped to travel down the hallway and into the Alohym’s troops.
Screams reached Armin’s ears. Screams that didn’t belong to his friends or allies, so welcome screams. A few more troops injured, a few more hopefully out of the fight or dead.
The next group began to charge in. Armin fired off a few more beams of light as he got behind cover. “Clarcia, now!”
Clarcia popped up again to erect the barrier anew. Armin saw her, her eyes narrow with determination, her fingers curled as she began to weave light into a wall that would keep the soldiers out.
Those eyes widened when an unlight beam struck her in the forehead. Clarcia’s head snapped back, and a spray of blood rose from her forehead in an arc to follow the motion. She slumped to her knees and for a moment Armin dared hoped she was alright, that she just needed time to recover.
Then her body finished its collapsed, and Clarcia died.
Armin remembered screaming. He remembered turning to fire into the oncoming forces, wild beams that were not aimed, just desperate attempts to kill someone, anyone, for what they had done to Clarcia.
He remembered the unlight wave spreading out from a hand that appeared out of the darkness, old and wizened. A hand that was attached to a face Armin knew, a face Armin had expected to find waiting for them.
Theognis was here.
The unlight wave struck Ossman and Aldredia first. They were thrown into the air. Ossman bellowed in rage and anguish. Aldredia fell silent, her blade slipping from between her fingers. It hit the cauldron where Synit hid and sent it rolling along the floor. It scooped up Clarcia’s lifeless body and sent it tumbling like a ragdoll.
Then it hit Armin, and he was tumbling through the air himself. He saw Guiart raise his hands in a pathetic attempt at defense against the onrushing force, and then Guiart had joined them in their flight.
Armin struck the opposite wall. The impact drove the air out of his lungs, and only then did he stop screaming.
Theognis smiled. “Chain them up. I have questions for the survivors.”
After that, Armin only remembered blackness.