SKY – 10

SKY – Chapter 10

“Army of West-Hail. Your mission will be to rescue the noble family of the city of Dawnsill. The head of the family is one of the last few scholars of the ancient manuals. He is of vital importance to the kingdom and must be retrieved. Currently, they are held hostage by a mastig invasion force approaching on the eastern winds. The mastigs are keeping them alive for information, but do not be careless. The safety of this man is critical.”

“Wow, what a task,” Vayling said.

“According to the brief, Dawnsill was a mid sized fortress in the middle layer of the Kingdom, famous as a production and maintenance depot,” Maltii said. “They were attacked a couple days ago by a fleet slightly smaller than the one that attacked us.”

“The mastigs kidnapped this man for some reason. Do they want our technology?” Hleis asked.

“Seems that way. Why else would they kidnap a scholar of the ancient ways?” Maltii replied.

“Can they even use our tech?” Hleis asked.

“Yeah, also why is that so important that we need to rescue him specifically?” Vayling said.

“The ancient tech is hard to learn and we can’t lose the few people who can teach it,” Maltii said.

The crew flew through the morning mist. Their new ships were hardly swayed by the wind and cut through the skies with speed and precision. Hleis looked through the window; unable to gauge the velocity they were travelling at. He yearned to go outside on the dock, to feel the familiar winds he grew up with. To feel the coolness of the air on his skin and the way it caressed and pulled at his clothes.

They were travelling at too high of a speed for him for him to attempt it. Wind force warnings littered the outside of the ship, instructing all soldiers to stay in the designated areas or remain seated while in transit.

Every attempt at comfort had been made for their army, but still Hleis felt suffocated. He couldn’t wait to get off, knowing full well that mastigs awaited him once they stopped.

Traer sat to his right while Maltii and Vayling were seated in front him facing his direction.

He wondered how Sota was doing; they had spent a considerable amount of time together. She was teaching him about magic. He was teaching her what he knew of fighting mastigs.

She was on the bombardment ship; the one used by the other half of the legion. Cruntiq was leading this command ship. His lieutenant was commanding the bombardment one. A moving fortress was how Traer described their ship. A secure headquarters where he and the strategic team could observe and direct things as battles progressed. It was hard to believe that in a matter of months, the local defense force of an outskirt town would reach this point. People within West-Hail found it hard to believe, people in the army did too, but yet here they were.

The early battle was composed only by the exchange of bombardments. Vibrations shook throughout the command ship. Windows shattered, but the hull retained its shape.

 In the pod bay, Hleis and Maltii had joined with the rest of their boarding party. He recognized some voices, but the uniform helmets of the legion obscured the faces of new recruits and old allies.

 “Squad, we’re going to be on the offensive this time,” Hleis said. “We’re entering unknown territory here. We don’t know the layout of their ship, so play it safe, we won’t have the home ground advantage like we did back in West-Hail.”

Hleis’ reputation had grown, rumors of the swordsman who slayed an alpha had spread throughout the recruits, earning him his position as a leader of the current boarding efforts.

“Stay together, never wander off on your own. Mastigs could be hiding around any corner. Remember the training. Avoid narrow spaces if possible. And do not engage elites on your own, call it out and we’ll provide support as needed,” Hleis said.

They entered into the hull of the mastig flagship. It had entered into a game of fiery projectiles with their bombardment vessel leaving both aircrafts damaged, sending their crews into a frantic state of maintenance and repair.

The distracted mastigs were stunned by the sudden appearance of humans breaching their ship’s walls, even more so when an unseen sword splattered it with their blood.

“Okay, regroup! Maltii, where are we?”

“We landed in a good spot. We’re the closest unit to the bridge, where we assume the hostages are being held.”

“Then we’ll head there. Send the message out to the other units that we’ll take point. They’ll be our backup and support.”

 “Hleis! We just received word on the alpha! It’s been spotted in the launching bay! The mages are currently keeping it occupied! Cruntiq and his guards are on the way to meet it now.”

“They’re strong, they’ll be fine, but that’s good to know. That means it’s not at the bridge.”

Every step in the hall, every clang of metal, every beat of the heart, Hleis could hear it. Aware of what he was now doing, his vitality was transformed into the magic he used to strengthen his body. Sota was a much better teacher than he realized. His sword was almost weightless in his hands, his legs moved faster and his strides were longer. He would frequently check behind himself as to not leave his unit behind.

Fighting elites this time was far more comfortable. His sword regained its heaviness when it made contact with their flesh and fur. Their weapons grew weightless as they made contact with him.

The soldiers who accompanied him stuck together, and given ample warning, were able to manage the numbers disadvantage.

The bridge was spacious. Dark and jagged monitors, smaller mastigs, armored elites. A few humans were tied up in the back, bruised and injured.

His unit caught up behind him. No casualties, good. A couple injuries, but we’ll have to continue through them.

“Hleis! You have to slow down next time!”

“Sorry, still getting used to things… They know where here, so let’s get started. I’ll intercept the elites up front, cover me Maltii. The rest of you partner up and make your way to the hostages.”

“Yes sir!”

“Hleis! There are three elites! You want to take them all on at once?”

“No time to discuss! They’re coming now!”

The elites wielded heavy clubs, sharp axes and cleavers. They were strong, but slower than their magical opponent. The abundance of space was the perfect defense for Hleis. No need to be precise with dodging and parrying when he can enter and leave their range at will.

An aching pain started to emerge in Hleis’ chest. He found his breaths growing shorter and more rapid. Still need to get used to this. Taken too long. Need to hurry, fast. Conserve my stamina.

One of the elites swung too wide, the momentum of its club carrying it forward, separating the mastig from its two companions. Hleis was in its face just after its club had made contact with the ground. A soft slice through the neck of the creature painted an archway of red.

The axe of an enraged mastig swung down on a retreating Hleis, connecting with his shoulder. His magic lessened the weight of the weapon saving him from death, but not from injury.

It had cut him. Deep enough that moving his left arm left would spill an unnerving amount of blood.

“Hleis! Get back! I’ll cover you!”

The room began to spin as his sight slightly wavered. Shaking his head, he retreated several meters back to regain his breath.

“Gah! I’m fine! I can manage against two!”

I’m feeling it in my head already huh? Is it from the loss of blood or the overuse of magic? Damn. I got cocky didn’t I? Maybe this was a little too much for my current level…

The two elites charged with unstoppable fury. They wore expressions of berserk rage, no doubt because of the death of their comrade, and directed their anger towards the killer.

Parrying was no easy matter. Further retreat would only siphon more stamina. Slowing him down, leaving him open to more injuries.

The strike to my shoulder didn’t kill me, then a blow to my arm won’t either.

Hleis moved into the area between the two mastigs. The two weapons flew towards him. One aimed at his upper torso and one aimed at his legs.

The upper strike was blocked by his forearm, cutting into his armor and piercing the skin. He jumped over the lower strike and kicked his leg into the stomach of the elite. Direct contact with Hleis reduced the mastig’s weight, and the force sent it flying.

 With the axe still lodged in his left arm, Hleis cut downwards into the neck of the other mastig with the sword in his other hand.

The beast fell with a thud, releasing the axe it was holding. Hleis pulled it out of his arm with a wince. It hadn’t cut through bone, but it got much deeper than skin level.

“I should’ve figured it would be this way. I can tell I’m draining stamina much more rapidly when I’m injured…” he said to Maltii.

“Then retreat already you idiot.”

“We still have one more…”

“Let the others deal with it! You’ve killed two already. That’s more than enough! Trust your soldiers to deal with one injured elite. Now get over here and let me treat you.”

Hleis made his way to Maltii. The trail of blood behind him thinned out as walked over.

“How did you not bleed to death? This is no small wound…”

“Don’t know. Magic?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised. Still, I can’t be happy with how you’ve been fighting… You’re just trading your future to stay alive in the present…”

“I’m trading my future so that we don’t have to lose six men every time we face an elite.”

“Hleis…trust us. It’s not just your job to fight elites. Our training was for this as well, let us put it to use.”

“…Sorry, you’re right…I’ll be more careful next time.”

The weightless effects of Hleis’ enchantment wore off moments after contact was broken. The third elite flew through the air and landed with the full weight of its body moving as if were a ball kicked by a young boy.

It landed against a jagged wall; leaving its back armor shattered and bloodied, ribs broken, completely disoriented. It was down on its hands, trying to recompose after the impact. It looked around for its weapon, but never spotted it. It looked over at its comrade and watched it die to the human’s sword.

Soon, other swords surrounded it. One meager swing of its fist was all it could muster before its life was ended by the surrounding humans.

“We’ve cleared out all the mastigs! Some fled, but we should have reinforcements on the way to help us evacuate,” said one of the soldiers. “Honestly, that was amazing squad leader!”

“Great work team. Have we secured the hostages?”

“We’ve freed all the humans held here. Should I bring them over?”

“I’ll go to them. I can still walk…” Hleis said. Maltii was at his side. He felt the sting of her field medicines on his wounds and the pressure of her hands wrapping them. “Hey, we’re from Center-Storm, is everyone okay?”

“My father! They took my father!” a young boy shouted in tears.

“They took him away before you arrived on the bridge! Towards the escape shuttles!” a frantic woman said.

“What? Maltii! Call Traer and command and let them know! I’m betting that’s our guy!”

“Already on it!”

“They did this before we arrived? Damn! That was over fifteen minutes ago. We might be too late.”

“Hleis! Good news! Traer’s saying they spotted the escape shuttle when it launched. Sota and a her team are already tracking it!”

“Excellent! Kid, your dad will be okay. The mages are strong and will rescue him without a doubt.”

***

Another party? Is it really necessary to celebrate every victory like this? Hleis had these thoughts when they just arrived, but that was a welcoming part resulting from an unprecedented victory. But now, that they were a major army, victory should be the expectation. How wasteful, or perhaps victories are just that rare nowadays…

“Resources and upgraded ships! Parties after every battle! Ha! Who would’ve thought life in the capital would be of such splendor!” shouted a soldier.

“Land and gold for each of us! The affectionate eyes of adoring beauties!” shouted another.

Sota was chatting with Traer, Maltii and some others. They looked like they were having a good time, but who knew if those were genuine or not. Tonight, Hleis wore a false smile at all times, keeping his appearances consistent with his formal yet uncomfortable attire.

“Hleis! I heard about your accomplishments today!” he heard as was greeted with a firm pat on his back.

Bald with old wounds decorating his scalp, Cruntiq was terrifying to those unfamiliar with him. His experience was scarred on his body.

To Hleis, the scars signified strength. They presented to the world the horrible things he had endured and triumphed over. Each one represented a time that he could have died but didn’t.

“Thanks captain. I hear you were able to take down another alpha?”

“Yeah, but this time I had a whole specialized team supporting me. Age is really catching up to me haha! Had to be carried out because I was so tired! Your injuries feeling okay?”

“Yeah, they weren’t very deep, so first aid and some stiches was all that was needed. I’m still learning, there were a couple injuries on my team and I think I tried to take on too much by myself… I’ll need to be a better leader.”

“Your results are exceptional for your age. What you’re worried about now will resolve itself with experience. You can never stop learning, but you also can’t rush it.”

“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind. Are parties like these common?”

“No they shouldn’t be, but at the same time it doesn’t surprise me either.”

“It feels uncomfortable. The sudden gratification is affecting our teammates and friends in ways I don’t enjoy seeing.”

“This is the effect Center-Storm has on people. It takes a while to get used to the luxury. Plus, we’re from the outskirts. They’re trying to build loyalty.”

“Loyalty for what? It’s not like we can betray them or anything. Literally all humans are on the same side.”

“If we’re loyal, we don’t question. Our fights will get much harder and they will need us to cooperate. Still, we have to continue, for the sake of our kingdom and our species.”

“Captain. Is there a way we can win against the mastigs or is the best we can do is just to survive?”

“I’ve wondered that too, but don’t spend too much time on thoughts like those. Don’t come to any conclusions before the battle is fought.”

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