Chapter 90: The Battle of Sandstone 2
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Six defenders lay dead moments into the confrontation, their vibrant abilities, years of training and real combat experience bled away into the sand. 

Benzhi led the Vanguard through the link, Kyandre had no idea what was happening and how they were communicating. They flew over the wall using their mobility techniques to speed towards Tresten if they were not too late they would assist him and his remaining companion.

Tresten was retreating, firing lightning bolt after lightning bolt at his foe, his companion bravely taunted the Myrkalfar Spear Knight, trying to distract him if only for a moment. He feinted to the knights left side before backflipping out of range. The blackcloak had deduced the Myrkalfars speed and reach. However, he had to become bolder to distract the knight.

The Vanguard covered the three hundred paces in a score of heartbeats, rushing past Tresten Benzhi charged the Myrkalfar head on. Reyas and Gisael were hot on his heels, only a pace behind, he did not outpace his companions they stuck together in a precision formation born of the shared link. Anastasia stayed by Tresten’s side, she spoke to him as the first blow landed.

It was a simple statement, ”we are here,” rhetorical in fact, but the depth of meaning gave Tresten hope and courage, he had just seen his companions die in rapid succession. The Vanguard did not run, as anyone would expect a foreign band to do in the light of what just occurred. They were brave, stupid brave.

Benzhi launched into the air ten paces from the knight, his spear was pulled back, brimming with qi, using every technique he knew to enhance the strike, Benzhi descended upon the knight in a straightforward fashion. There was no elegance, no subterfuge nor tactics. What was brought to bear was raw power.

As he struck from above, Reyas charged past the knight slicing his right side while Gisael mirrored her on his left. The knight did not know where to block, their timing was impeccable, all the strikes landed in the same instant. Benzhi had been ahead of his companions, but his leap into the air and subsequent decent allowed them to pull alongside.

Sparks flew, the knight attempted to parry Benzhi’s spear with his own, to no avail, Benzhi’s spear did not move when struck despite the power behind it. The Myrkalfar Knight was impaled from a spear above and sliced in two from the dual cuts on each of his sides. It was overkill, but to Tresten is was inspiring. The Myrkalfar could be defeated, but it seemed where strategy and tactics failed raw power was successful.

The Vanguard had it in spades.

The other three Myrkalfar Knights had won their bouts. They would not normally assist a companion, it was up to each of them to win or die on their own. They took note of this new threat and waited, interestingly they did not regroup nor assist the Dread Lord who was now in combat with the Paladin.

The scantily clad knight drew her daggers and smiled viciously. She did not seem concerned by the group who had just killed the spear wielder, and she did not wait for aid, she ran towards the Vanguard ignoring Tresten and Anastasia, her sights were on the worthy foe.

As she charged a cry left her lips, it was accompanied by a dread pulse, one which gave Gisael and Reyas pause. The pulse blew through their basic aura-shield, but it was Anastasia who enabled them to withstand a pulse as soon as they felt the effect of her aura. Anastasia had sent Devotion through the link. Her aura may not be able to reach them normally, but through the link, the area of effect did not matter.

Devotion was a word to describe the feeling, the emotion. It did not do the aura justice. It was strong, far stronger than Alejo who had augmented his aura over the years. Anastasia affinity was apparent, and Kebo was proven correct. The feeling of courage, loyalty, companionship, shared goals and love enveloped the Vanguard.

They realised almost immediately that with this aura through the link they shared would alleviate the need to aura-shield. It was so strong that each of the Vanguard glowed with its effect. It was hard for Benzhi to strategise with the feeling coming through the aura, his protective instincts took over, and he roared at the dagger-wielding knight in panties. He would not let her touch any of his companions anyone from the Alpine Forest, she had to die and die she must. She was a threat.

He shunpo’d directly into her, using his shield to qi-bash, she did not defend, she stood her ground, only to be knocked flying backwards with the impact. A look of surprise crossed her face, she had not expected to be flung, and she definitely had not expected her barrier to be damaged.

His charge was savage enough to tear her barrier from her shoulder to her groin, the strands of qi had come apart. She began to panic, retreating from the strangely glowing foes. She had never seen anything like it. 

She was fast, but not fast enough to escape the Vanguard, Gisael and Reyas flanked her while Benzhi bore down on her directly. As soon as she dodged she was within Gisael’s reach, the Vanguard had used their connection to coordinate perfectly. The three longest-serving members had honed their skills over a year, and with numerous battles behind them, their understanding, communication and timing were impeccable.

Gisael feinted with her first sword while targetting the tear with her second. The knight expertly parried both blows, sparks flew as qi blade impacted with qi blade. Gisael ramped up her onslaught, slicing and stabbing from a myriad of angles in rapid succession. The Myrkalfar was no longer confident now her barrier was breached, she parried maniacally, but every third strike found its target and more tears began to appear in the barrier.

Reyas had approached from behind, the spear end of her staff transfixed the stomach of the Myrkalfar knight. She had struck from behind, breaching the barrier and piercing the knight’s qi core in one almighty qi strike. Gisael was a consummate warrior, Reyas was a beast.


Benzhi had continued on to the furthermost knight who wielded a spear and shield.  His qi armour was superbly crafted covering every inch of his body. Even Kris would be unable to find a weakness. He had left Gisael and Reyas, the aura was emboldening him, he also did not want this knight descending upon them during their exchange with the dagger-wielder.

Benzhi did not pause, he did not think, he simply charged the Myrkalfar, fury escaping his lips moments before they collided. The knight shrugged off the aura pulse, his own aura-shield in place. Benzhi stabbed directly at his opponent's core, the knight brought around his shield and blocked it, sparks few as qi strike met qi barrier. 

Benzhi did not withdraw his spear, he rotated qi around its head, the ingenious design by Barrin surprised the Myrkalfar knight. Benzhi’s spear began to penetrate the shield, slowly but surely, drilling a hole through, ruining the integrity of the shield and the barrier. Sparks drained onto the ground like a fountain, if it weren't in the midst of mortal combat, it would have been beautiful.

They stood toe to toe, the knights red eyes shining from within the dark recesses of his helm. Benzhi’s glowing presence dominated the scene, the fully armoured, intimidating Myrkalfar knight was eclipsed. 

Benzhi’s spear was now through his opponent's shield, its head moving inexorably towards the knight's core. The knight had not yet succumbed he desperately stabbed his own spear at his opponents head, from a height, over his shield.

Benzhi did not block, he did not move. He merely accepted the blow and trusted in his stoneskin ability to repel the spear point. He was glowing with power and confidence, Anastasia’s aura coupled with the revelation he had an affinity for qi emboldened him. He knew his ability to thread the most immaculate stoneskin would exceed the knight's qi strike.

The Knight’s spear point met his forehead, the resulting sparks blinded Benzhi for a moment, his stoneskin was superior to his foe’s qi strike, his confidence was not unfounded. His domination of the fellow spear wielder was nigh when his own spear met the knight’s grand amour. 

The masterwork dwarven qi spear began to drill through the Myrkalfar armour, the knight had never witnessed such a weapon, he began to panic, he dropped his spear and drew his dagger. The knight was about to retreat, but his arm was attached to his shield, and his shield was impaled by the dwarven spear.

The knight used his dagger to cut the straps on the rear of his shield, but it was too late the dwarven spear had penetrated his core, and his qi began to drain rapidly. Before he could free himself the ebony qi shield smashed into the knight's helmet, stunning him. The third knight's qi drained, and he died in moments. 

Benzhi placed his foot on the shield and corpse beneath, pulling his spear free. It was a far superior weapon to the Myrkalfars’.

Anastasia’s aura suddenly disappeared, he turned, but before he could sense with his own eyes what was amiss, the link informed him. The bladed-staff Myrkalfar knight had attacked Anastasia, Tresten and the dagger-wielding blackcloak.

Benzhi, Gisael and Reyas rushed to their aid.


Anastasia was focusing on her aura, it was a new ability, hardly a technique, but to maintain it she had to focus, replaying the memory and maintaining the feeling of love, and being loved, of devotion and belonging.

Tresten looked at her, he could feel the power of the aura as he was in its area of effect, he emitted a low whistle of appreciation.

“How should I assist?” he asked as Benzhi chased down the dagger-wielding myrkalfar. Anastasia would have called her a slut, but, Gisael was probably less covered, so better not to throw stones. Fortunately, Benzhi had not shown any sexual attraction through the link, merely amusement at her choice of armour.

“I think it may be best to spectate, for the moment, their movements are too fast too coordinate with you. I am sensing there will be no hesitation, it will be direct assaults, can you hit a myrkalfar knight only?” She asked.

Tresten shook his head, “it does not work that way, it could easily arc to one of ours if they are in close quarters. This is why we practised coordination, not only that, my companions had fought with me for a long time.” He used the past tense as one of them was now dead. 

Benzhi had closed on the spear-wielding knight, while Reyas and Gisael took down the dagger-wielder.

“Why wasn’t this power apparent when we sparred?” Tresten enquired.

“We were trying not to injure as well as build your teamwork and confidence,” Anastasia replied honestly.

“This aura, you hid this aura,” he accused.

“I only learned this aura last night,” she replied. Even talking was a strain, she focused on maintaining her aura, the fact the Vanguard were winning helped, she was not sure she could stand idly by maintaining an aura if they were dying.

Tresten suddenly cried, “move.”

The bladed-staff Myrkalfar had tried to cut her in half. She rolled and drew her sword, dropping her aura, it was too hard to maintain in combat. It was her time to fight. Anastasia had trained hard and had numerous battles under her belt, she may not be Gisael or Reyas, but she was talented in qi body, shunpo, stoneskin and her weapon was a masterwork qi blade crafter by Barrin.

The knight charged her again, she stood her ground this time, he attacked straightforwardly, leaping into the air and bringing his bladed staff down in an overhead strike. She had sparred with Benzhi too many times to be caught by such a move. Not only that, this myrkalfar was exponentially slower than the Vanguard’s leader.

She stepped aside, bent her knee and swept his landing spot. The knight was fully armoured and unable to twist or change direction like her teacher. He landed, and her sword met his midriff. Sparks flew, she had push qi into the masterwork blade engaging qi strike, she had used qi body strength, yet the blow was deflected by his armour.

Anastasia jumped back before he could counterattack. The knight turned to face her and walked towards her ominously whirling his staff.

Tresten unleashed qi lightning into his opponents back, the full force of his power struck the knight squarely, and his shield glimmered but held. The myrkalfar armour was strong indeed, how Benzhi had sliced through it with a single blow only showed how strong he had become.

The knight now ignored her, he turned towards Tresten and charged. Tresten’s blackcloak companion attempted a flank attack, but he was rebuffed by the twirling bladed staff. It sliced open the blackcloaks arm forcing him to retreat, he was bleeding profusely, and his arm was not far off being severed just below the elbow.

The knight continued to charge Tresten, whom he saw as the real threat, the lightning master had damaged his barrier where Anastasia had merely given it a love tap.

The bladed-staff knight spun his weapon at Tresten who defended with his spear, keeping the knight at bay as best he could before he could unleash another lightning bolt. The knight turned suddenly to deflect a blow from Anastasia, he had sensed her approach, he kicked her sending her flying before turning on Tresten. He had begun to unleash lightning from his spear and it arced across the few paces separating them, lighting up the knight in a discordant cage of electricity.

The knight withstood the continuous barrage, marching slowly and inexorably towards Tresten, all the while his barrier was dissipating, the knight whirled his bladed-staff in a furious assault, one which Tresten could not parry. The blackcloak captain attempted to retreat from the barrage, but the Myrkalfar knight kept closing on him, slicing his arm, then leg, bringing the Captain down.

The last blow landed on Tresten’s neck, almost severing his head before a spear protruded through the knights face from behind. It was a dwarven spear, and it had arrived moments too late to save the blackcloak captain.

Benzhi swore, looking down at the corpse of the blackcloak captain, he looked up and saw Kyandre standing in front of him. She had decided to join the battle after all the defenders were… wait… the Paladin.

Benzhi turned to look for Alejo, the Paladin and Kris had engaged the Dread Lord a few hundred paces to the south. He spied Kris, kneeling in the sand and then he saw Alejo.