Echoes of Invasion: The Society of Shadow | Scene 9

In the early morning light, wagons casting long shadows to the west, Rhodri’s caravan rumbles north alongside the Grey Woods towards the Great River. The skies above are clear, but a lightning bolt crashes into the ground in front of the lead cart, spooking the horses nearby. Gaenyn’s drawl booms from the tree line as he steps into view. “Y’all just need to give up your provision carts, and we’ll let the rest of you all continue along your way just fine. There doesn’t need to be any sort of dustup here.”

A few carts further back, Rhodri stands, looking as impeccable and annoyed as ever. They order the wagoneers to double-time it. Rather than panic, the forewarned drivers set about calming their beasts and coaxing them onward. Caravan guards hidden among the goods reveal themselves, weapons at ready, and rush to engage the lightning mages and brigands who charge in. Despite Gaenyn’s words, though, the main thrust of the initial attack is on the back of the caravan, where Sir Sior’s forces guard the chain gang destined for the Ford of Abez bridge project.

Gaenyn does not direct his attention there, however. Instead, he lances a blast of lightning down the side of the road and into the trees, where he senses the focal point of powerful magics, an elvish caster by the name of Tric Manu. The first blast catches its target right at the collarbone above his heart.

Well, at least we succeeded at making them split their forces, Tric consoles himself, the scent of his own burning flesh filling his nostrils. He no longer has any doubt whatsoever that these mages can wield lightning, given that the blast came horizontally alongside the caravan, not from the sky. Too bad the hock of ham is in my bag, not strapped to my chest. Should’ve taken precautions. He barely has time for these thoughts before a second lightning blast hits him squarely in the chest, where his leathers do a better job of absorbing some of it. His bandana strains to keep his hair under control in these shocking conditions.

Shadows gather around Gaenyn, drifting toward him from where they naturally lie across the early morning landscape. They swirl up around him as he yells at some of his cloaked followers, “Tamp them down!” Three of the “scholars” peel away from the caravan and head towards the elves. To Donella, the big, bulky woman with the morningstar, he says, “See what you can do about our lumber pile.”

Tric shudders at the disrespect. “It’s one thing to cut down trees for firewood; that has to be done sometimes,” he mutters. “But to cut down a wose!” 

For her part, Heppa is amazed that Tric is still standing following those lightning bolts. With her slighter figure, she doubts she would be able to withstand the same. And if I go down, who will heal everyone else? she thinks, as she rushes over to her cousin. She draws fae energy to her and feeds it onwards to him to start mending his wounds. Then she triggers the hastening effect of Lady Sabine’s ruby ring and nocks an arrow as magic begins to hum through her. 

After seeing what Gaenyn did with his lightning, Tric has no interest in letting the other shadow mages try the same thing. Gaenyn is beyond the reliable range of Tric’s bow, but the others are closing in. He fires warning shots at them, but none of his arrows connect. Dolmathengalin’s limbs do, however. The elder wose, moving swiftly from Tric’s earlier magic, lurches forward toward Gaenyn. It strikes out at the other mages as it passes, knocking them every which way. One of them stays still, flattened to the ground, but the other two stagger closer to the elves, propelled by the blows.

Donella tries to intercept Dolmathengalin, charging up to the wose and taking a crack at it. Her blow lands, snapping branches off, but the fae creature pushes on past her, fixated on its target. Gaenyn draws his sword, raising it above his head and pointing it at the wose in a showy presentation posture with no practical martial application. Lightning crackles from the tip of the sword, blasting at the wose and leaping from branch to branch, scarring the ancient creature with more marks of battle. Dolmathengalin creaks and groans. “Stop. This. Corruption!” it shouts. Its branches tear at the shadows with which Gaenyn has surrounded himself, shredding some of them. Immediately following the first sally, the wose brings in another branch from the other side, catching the smug shadow mage unawares. Gaenyn is rocked by the blow.

It has been a very long time since Blululldrum has engaged in any real combat, and it is a little more cautious than Dolmathengalin. However, the other wose has sent targets within easy reach. Blululldrum leaves the distant threats for those with short legs to go handle. Instead, it bats at the closest threat, the stumbling humans in dark robes who are chanting something. “Stop your corruption!” Blululldrum says, echoing Dolmathengalin’s sentiments with angrily narrowed glowing eyes. Only the edges of its branches catch them, impeding their progress but not causing them any real damage. 

The shadow mages work together, waving their arms in a way that the elves are sure bodes ill for the corruption levels in this area. One of them points at Tric through Blululldrum’s swatting branches, and he feels a wave of energy wash over him, sapping at his strength. He braces himself, but it is weaker than he expects, merely causing his hands to spasm so that his bow falls to the ground. Perhaps the caster is having a hard time concentrating with everything coming at them right now. 

Tric watches as the mages bat ineffectually at Blululldrum’s branches and stumble farther away, trying to steady each other even as the wose continues to harry them. When they finally collapse under its blows, it swings its branches across to swat Donella. Farther afield, Mate is circling above Gaenyn looking for an opening. Tric pulls out a piece of the honey-glazed ham and whistles at the magpie. I thought this might save a man’s life; I just didn’t realize it would be mine, he reflects. The bird sees the unusual reward—far better than the standard fare of nuts and mice—and yodels back in acknowledgement. Then he changes to Aderyn’s battle call, crying like a falcon as he swoops down at the stupid who sent lightning at his friend. Mate bats at the man with his wings and claws while deftly avoiding all the branches and crackling energy. “Just take down Gaenyn!” Tric cries.

Bow at the ready and rune-etched ruby pulsing on her finger, Heppa considers the battlefield before her. With his lightning, Gaenyn is the largest threat, but Mate and Dolmathengalin are currently confronting him and his shadows. Although she would like to help them, she worries about accidentally hitting them. The magpie is so small, and the wose looks badly burnt from lightning strikes. Donella has moved to strike at Blululldrum, but the bulk of that wose is far enough away from the ruffian that Heppa feels she will be a safer target. Heppa is pulsing with power, vibrating from the speed with which the rune imbues her. She tries to do everything at once, using its magic to whip up twigs and branches at the woman while loosing her own arrows. She miscalculates a bit, and the winds knock her shots off course, but they also whack Donella with some large branches.

The elves personally may have done little to Gaenyn, but their woodland allies, trees and birds, have hurt him greatly. Though he can be overconfident at times, the amount of magic he has worked here is wearing him down, so he decides a withdrawal is called for. He focuses power through his sword again, but this time, instead of lightning crackling from it, darkness blossoms out of it, melding with his shadow protectors and spreading onward, pooling through a wide area to cover his retreat.

The unnatural darkness does not quite reach the elves, though it obscures the woses—except for their very highest leaves—and their opponents. Used to night jobs, Donella continues to whack at the nearest branches despite the darkness. Tric can hear the crash of her weapon as it strikes pieces from Blululldrum. A thought occurs to him… He can produce illusions, or at the very least, a belief that things are different from the truth; that is how he tricked Sleidr with his box of shiny rocks. What would an illusion of light look like? he now wonders. What if we all just think there is light? Would that work? Tric moves to the edge of the darkness, confidently declaring, “It is not just the woses who are with us, it is the trees themselves. And the trees will part, letting the sun cleanse this corruption. And in the darkness, you shall find light!”

In Tric’s mind, he is trying to get everyone to believe that the tree canopy could open enough for sunbeams to come through. That is not what he sees happen though. Gaenyn is suddenly revealed farther afield as the darkness winks out, snuffed like a candle flame. Whatever effect the shadow mage conjured is immediately overturned by Tric’s own magic. That was definitely more powerful than I expected! Tric reflects. But this is not the time to get caught up in that. He whistles to Mate, urging the magpie to attack again. Gaenyn still has about him the shadow guardians he called at the start of the raid, but they are looking as ragged as he is. One swoop might be enough to take them out.

Mate’s attack is intercepted by a disturbingly cold shadow. Its unnatural behavior, throwing itself between him and his target, unnerves the bird, who continues on, flying out of the mage’s reach. Meanwhile, Dolmathengalin lurches forward. This is the most the wose has had to move in centuries. Not since Ardryn-Na terrorized the forest has it moved so much, but the effort is worth it now. The shadows have all oozed over to defend against the magpie, leaving Gaenyn’s other side unprotected. “Enough of your corruption! You will no longer wake the dead; you will join them.” Branch tips impale the shadow mage, and when they withdraw, he collapses to the ground, still. Dolmathengalin continues onward, crushing the corruptor under its roots.

Light restored, Blululldrum showers blows upon Donella, knocking the morningstar from the ruffian’s hands. With her weapon—and her boss—gone, she flees the scene, chased away by Heppa’s arrows.