Highshield Chapter XVII
© 2017 Randolph Lalonde
The number of people coming through Highshield City’s North Gate was simply astonishing, Rendiran had never seen that many people in one place. He could feel the desperation and fear rolling off them. Many looked to the paladins and castle soldiers as they hurried to ready themselves for a fight on the other side of the gates.
There was something there with pure malevolent intent, he could feel it, and it was getting closer, coming after them. When he saw the first people screaming, escaping through the gatehouse more frantically than anyone so far, he knew whatever was spurring them on with such recklessness that he feared some people would be trampled was worse than he thought. When some people emerged, flailing and falling as they burned, he stood and reached out to the flames with his mind. It was something he read about but never tried, and when the flames dissipated and he healed the charred flesh of three people, he was relieved and encouraged to see that the theories he’d learned were easy enough for him to put into practice. Again, he felt a power all his own, it kept him from feeling fatigued, helped him focus, and worked alongside his healing gifts.
A hard tug on his pant leg pulled him back down to the wagon seat. “You’re drawing too much attention to yourself,” Drikson said. “It’s not the time, there are more important things coming to save your energy for. You’ll know it when it happens, or, if we’re lucky, you won’t be needed at all and you’ll make it to the boat while Haffor and I lead our company back into the city to buy you time.”
“Something is setting people on fire as it moves through the gates, I won’t watch people burn when I can save them,” Rendiran said, turning back towards the gate.
That’s when he and Drikson felt it, a surge of power from their right, fire and the force of a thousand hammers focusing. A tall man with dark hair grinned from the crowd with his hands held high. Peasants did their best to get clear of him as a rolling ball of fire as bright as the sun erupted from the space between his hands and crossed the distance between him and Drikson in an instant. The world around Rendiran exploded. Heat and unbelievable pressure pushed him off his seat, into the air, and commoners caught in the direct blast were blown to pieces violently, and as easily as a harsh gust scatters a pile of leaves. His ears rang, his leg and arm were in shreds, and he could feel a sharp stabbing pain in his side.
He closed his eyes, the lesson of his teachers surfacing from memory as loudly as a bell – a healer is worthless if he cannot maintain himself - and he focused all his will on rebuilding his arm and leg, screaming as pieces of shrapnel were forced from his wounds. He intentionally neglected to regenerate three fingers on his right hand and most of the toes on his right foot, that could wait, as long as the wounds were closed and he was out of pain.
Then, he focused on his side, where he found a spoke from the wagon’s wheel jutting out from under his ribs. He opened his eyes long enough to see Crista kneeling down over him. She cringed as he yanked the spoke from his side. “The children,” he told her before focusing on mending his own internal injuries. It was easy to restore himself, he knew his own body better than anyone’s and blocking pain was something he’d practiced, but he didn’t bother, he still wasn’t feeling the full extent of his own injuries yet. He was mended and on his feet before it set in. He was unsteady without toes on his right foot, a strange feeling.
Haffor and the paladins were rushing the magician who had caused the explosion. The magician was joined by two more who savagely slashed at the shields of metal and divine power that sheltered the nine paladins who were in fighting condition. The wagon was on its side, the wheels facing the fireball were shattered, one of the horses was dead, and the other struggled under the corpse of its companion, screaming.
People who were caught in the blast were all around, there was no room for them to avoid the bodies of the dead as many struggled, stunned and fearful as they were, to get away from the site of the explosion and the city walls.
“Broken leg, I think,” Marjay said behind Rendiran. “I think you landed on me. You’re heavy for a priest.”
It took Rendiran only a moment to find the fracture and mend it. His other injuries were superficial. He reached out, mentally surveying for the children inside the wagon and found them panicked but in good condition. “Tadrin and Oria are awake, we have to get them out of here.”
New screams from the gatehouse drew his attention in time to see two figures in plate armour that seemed to be made of black smoke and dirty looking orange flames. They slashed at anyone in their path, a touch of their swords setting people ablaze. “I’ll get the children, then find us a horse to get away on,” Marjay said.
Rendiran limped back towards the wagon, extinguishing people who were set alight by the Immoral Embers, that must have been what they were, from how Crista described them. She emerged with Oria clinging to her and the dog circling at the rear of the wagon. Tadrin was right behind.
“Good morning, little ones,” Marjay said with some cheer. He took Tadrin onto his back. “Hold on tight and close your eyes, don’t open them for anything.”
A shard made of light and heat split the air, rushing towards him and the children behind him, and without thinking, Rendiran lashed out with his entire will and focus at it. The deadly shard of focused heat exploded harmlessly overhead, but he felt as though something bashed him from the inside and he fell backwards.
He glanced to Haffor in time to see that he and his remaining paladins were cutting down the last magician. “Help!” Rendiran shouted as he felt another shard of heat and light coming towards them from the armoured assailants that were marching ever closer. He blocked that as well, and felt the impact of the power he was countering inside himself, knocking him flat onto his back. The magic he was fighting was powerful, and he was aware that he wasn’t properly shielded, he wasn’t prepared for the kind of fight he was already in.
“Rendiran! Use a divine shield!” Haffor cried out as he rushed towards them.
“I call Viis and Irenick to my defence, protect your faithful servants as they guard the innocent,” Rendiran prayed with loud conviction, focusing as best he could on visualizing a shield made of crystal and light around them. He focused all his will on it as well, the act of a sorcerer, and felt the leading Immortal Ember Knight’s sword slash against it and bounce off harmlessly. He’d done it, brought his own power as a sorcerer and that which was gifted to him by his Gods together in one effort. He remembered his lessons on combatting the undead, though they were a long time ago, and he never thought he’d use the teaching. “I am the light, the paragon of my Goddess, their power resides in me, and I will see this place cleansed of evil.”
He repeated the prayer as he reached towards the nearest Ember Knight, and watched it stagger back into the pair behind him. He was only able to hold one there, still and braced as though it was tightly chained, reaching out to the other two, who slashed at his divine shield sending sparks and embers flying, would have broken his hold. “This won’t last!” Marjay warned.
“You two, run!” Haffor whistled and Rendiran heard the approaching of heavy hooves behind him. “Take Thunder Runner, he’ll bear the weight of all four of you.” Haffor rushed past Rendiran and through the holy shield. “My company will take these whoresons apart!” He lashed out with his sword, white sparks burst forth as it struck the nearest Ember Knight’s helmet, leaving a deep gash in the metal and exposing black bone beneath. One of them turned towards him, landing a heavy blow against his shield and loosing embers from his sword. Haffor’s next strike struck the Ember Knight that Rendiran was holding, driving it to its knees. Half its helm fell away, and Haffor shattered the skull within with his next blow, which was made with the flat of his blade. The fire and smoke dissipated from the Ember Knight’s bones and armour. The rest of the paladins joined Haffor, circling the last two Ember Knights.
One of them was struck in the neck right away, their flesh sizzling and catching fire as the Ember Knight’s sword wedged in a small chink in their armour. Rendiran focused on healing Kena, the young paladin as she struggled to survive, and when the blade was knocked loose by the paladin beside her, Rendiran was able to heal her completely.
“Go! Rendrian! We’ll maintain the shield so you can get away!” Haffor shouted. “We’ll kill these and catch up.”
With hesitation, Rendiran let go of the divine shield and felt a wave of fatigue fall on him like a heavy yoke on his shoulders. As he limped as quickly as he could away from the city, commoners all around him who were doing the same, he noticed a scrap of a combat healer’s robe and realized that it could be all that remained of Drikson.