A conflict has erupted in the heart of the Scar. The silvrik charge forth with an unbridled rage against the intruders. All the while another creature watches from a distance, waiting.
The featured art was done by Mattias and you can see more of his work here – website.
The editing was done by Luke Thompson and here is his – website.
The Yulhectur model-29 rifle or better known as Yul-29 is a world renown bolt-action rifle that can be found among the ranks of Derdainia soldiers. Even after a hundred and seventy years since it’s introduction into the world the rifle is still issued to new recruits in Derdainia, a truly impressive feat showing its history. However, the Yul-29 is unable to match the latest; Yul-37. This rifle is reinforced by high grade steel in both its frame and moving parts in the action of the bolt. Even the wood used in the frame is chosen with care to create the most sturdiest of rifles. Such a rifle would be unnecessary due to cost and weight of materials, but when made for espers it is justified. There are a variety of reasons for such a rifle for the ranks of espers within the Imperium. The most obvious reasons is the structure of the rifle allows espers to use it in various spells without worrying about the rifle being torn apart.
-Fargil Alluha, The Different Firearms of the Great Nations
The screech echoed down the passage, joined by claws clicking across stone. Gunfire rang in response, tracer fire giving glimpses of mandibles stretching forth.
“Natalia, go!” Orsolya shouted.
Turning on command, Natalia ran for the exit of the cave. The light of the sun breaking past the high cliff walls guided her out. An explosive further back sent out a shock wave that caused her to tumble on uneven ground.
Landing with a thud on the rim of the cave, Natalia turned and saw Alek come running up with a hand outstretched for her.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
She took the offered hand and nodded her head. Back on her feet, she saw Orsolya further back releasing a full salvo from her machine pistol. The creature that neared her quickly falling back into the shadows.
“You just had to insist on the shortcut!” Orsolya shouted as she came up to join them, a fresh magazine in hand for her pistol.
“It got those Union espers off our back, didn’t it?”
“Sure, and now we have a horde of silvrik on us!”
Alek turned and began to run down the path. “They were going to come anyways.”
“Just get us out of here!” Orsolya demanded.
Natalia glanced back to the cave entrance, looking for anything in the shadows, but saw no movement. Where’d they go? She tightened her grip on her rifle and ran after the other two. The cuts all along her arms and legs stung, but the fierce look of the fey still sent shivers through her. I thought fey were usually peaceful. The release of magic from the cave bellowed out with a gust of wind. “The Union are still chasing us!”
“Of course they are!” Alek replied.
“More of them!” Orsolya stopped abruptly and raised her rifle towards a crack along the wall, the flashlight along the barrel shining a line into the depths to reveal movement. Pulling the trigger, the burst of the incendiary round filled the hole with a spark of flames. She pulled the lever back, smoke emitting from the rifle as the empty casing flung into the air. “What is the path out of here, Alek? We can’t do this all day.”
“Still trying to figure that part out!” Alek stopped ahead and aimed his sub-machine gun to release a burst of fire, the gun’s mechanisms clacking in the effort to release round after round into another crack in the wall, an extending mandible quickly retreated.
Running past Orsolya, Natalia felt a thump in the ground and saw to her left a pair of yellow eyes staring from the darkness of a hole. Antennae reached out and were followed by a pincer from the hole.
“Stop thinking and just shoot, Natalia!” Orsolya spat.
Natalia watched a burst of flame erupt across the pincer, the antennae disintegrating in an instant. A gurgling screech followed, the yellow eyes vanishing from the hole. She looked over to see Orsolya loading in another incendiary slug into her rifle. “They just keep coming,” Natalia stammered.
“Exactly why we can’t stop.” Orsolya urged Natalia on with a wave of her hand.
The urgent look in Orsolya’s eyes and the screeches echoing in the rock walls gave flight to Natalia’s legs. She moved swiftly in the direction that Alek was leading them. The path rising sharply towards a ledge, there he dropped out of view. Reaching the top herself, Natalia saw Alek running down the path, just ahead she caught sight of movement in the shadows of another hole. She raised her rifle and fired, the bullet missing its mark on the wall beside the creature that quickly retreated into the shadows from the crack. I’m shaking too much. She released the empty casing and push the lever back in place, a fresh bullet in the chamber. She dropped down and began to run down the rocky path.
Further ahead the spacious area went up a gradual hill that fed into a thin path that exited the area. Above the thin path floated one of the boulders drifting a gentle pace up and down over the intersection. A shout of pain drew her attention and she looked back in time to see Orsolya stumble over the ledge and crash onto the floor heavily. “Orsolya!” She ran blindly towards the hurt woman.
“Natalia, above you!” Alek shouted.
She looked up and saw a flash of black and jumped back out of instinct. A gunshot followed by a screech rang through the air. “What is that?” She murmured staring down at the three black needles sticking out of the ground.
“Watch the ledge, Natalia,” Alek said, rushing past her.
“Right.” She raised her rifle, prepared for anything to appear.
“Can you move your leg?” Alek asked.
“Yeah, I can move it,” Orsolya replied.
“Stay still. Let me heal it.”
“We don’t have time to heal it; just help me close it.”
“But it could become worse later,” Alek replied.
Natalia glanced down and saw the pool of blood around Orsolya’s right leg. A grip of fear tightened around her heart.
“And we’ll deal with it then!” Orsolya snapped. “Those things will be back any minute and the espers just behind them!”
A wave of warmth tingled past her towards Orsolya and Alek. Is that the flow of magic going towards them? Natalia looked up with wide eyes at skittering drawing closer. She raised her rifle, finger itching to pull the trigger. “Close it faster; they’re coming!”
Orsolya cried out in pain.
Natalia looked down to see beads of sweat across Orsolya’s face.
“I think some poison got inside; we need to reope—.”
“Alek! Close it, damn it!”
More skittering now joined with the thud of hard feet across stone. A glimpse of movement and Natalia fired in an instant. Missed again! She released the casing and pushed the lever forward to fire a third bullet at another flicker of movement.
“On your feet, Sol,” Alek said.
With a grunt of pain, Orsolya was pulled to her feet and began to limp forward with Alek holding her up by the shoulder.
“Watch the rear, Natalia,” Alek said as he passed by her.
She did not respond only having time to pull the trigger again at another flicker of movement. A flash of an oozing fluid splashing into the air indicated that she’d hit something. Glancing back, Natalia saw the other two making their way down the path at an evened pace. We’re surely going to get swarmed by these things. She wiped sweat from her face and began to back away, blindly firing another round at the ledge before turning to close the distance to her companions. She reached along her belt for a fresh clip of five rounds to load into the rifle’s magazine.
With the new rounds loaded she turned and scanned the ledge now a few dozen meters away. Nothing. Natalia looked to either side along the walls, but still saw nothing. “What happened to them?” she called out.
Along the ledge in the distance, Natalia spotted one of the fey from before jump down and begin to sprint towards her. She’s so fast! Natalia fired a quick round, feeding magic into it as it shot out, before firing off a second round just behind the first. The magic of the first forced the fey to a halt as it cracked her barrier and the second bullet shot through, nearly piercing her skin.
With ease, the barrier was re-established and the fey was back in a sprint towards Natalia.
Natalia eyes widened as she fired another shot, feeding magic into it, but the bullet did nothing to slow the fey down. Father! Protect me!
The ground rumbled, and soon two silvrik popped out of the ground to charge toward the fey.
Natalia glanced back to see the other two heading along the thin path just ahead. “Behind us!” Natalia called out as she began to run up the hill bounding over rocks with swift feet. A hum of noise emitted in the air briefly. Natalia looked up at the floating boulder just up ahead marking the exit.
Another rumble caught Natalia off guard as she stopped before a silvrik climbing out of a hole at her side. She fired a round, which hit its mark directly in the silvrik’s head. Her heart raced as she watched the creature crumble down.
A flash of red all around Natalia followed by a bang of pain alerted Natalia to the blast of magic striking her. She twisted around and fired at the pursuing fey. Surrounded by monsters and chased by espers. Surely this won’t be the end? She released the empty casing and pushed the lever forward before taking aim and fired with a click. Shit, reload! She stood there with surprise at the swarm of six silvrik bursting from the ground to charge the fey. A quick burst of pistol rounds behind her drew her attention. Turning, she saw a flash of movement down the tight path past the intersection, the pistol rounds echoing down from the path. “Wait up!” she called and began to run.
Another hum in the air, stronger this time.
A shadow passed over Natalia, she looked up and noticed the boulder was now poised over the entrance of the thin path. She felt a strong warmth wash over her from the boulder like a wave. That magic, it’s the ghost’s! Her eyes widened and she quickly darted towards the path her comrades took just as the warm sensation left the area.
The crack of the boulder hitting the ground drowned out all sound including Natalia’s cry of fear as she leapt clear of the boulder. Landing on the opposite side of the boulder, she stood free for just a moment to realize the floor was splintering beneath her. She took a step and tried another before being met with nothing but empty space. Darkness filled her view as she plummeted down with the falling rocks towards the unknown below.
The first three silvrik with mandibles outstretched barely left their holes before they were impaled by spikes of dirt and rock piercing them from underneath, lifting their bodies into the air. Legs wiggled every which way as the large beetle-like silvrik struggled in their final death throes. Two silvrik climbed past. With slim bodies they managed to get closer to Liarie before an invisible current of air sliced their heads clean off, their bodies twisting back in a delayed reaction. The final silvrik flew with beating wings over the initial destructive magic, its pincers aimed for Liarie’s neck. Just a meter away, the silvrik was caught in the air by an invisible force, wings freezing up in shock as eyes widened. Its tongue darted out in a stabbing motion, trying desperately to reach its target out of frustration before turning to panic as its exoskeleton was crushed inward. Its innards gushed outward, unable to remain in the rapidly closing space. A moment later the silvrik was released from the force to land with a wet splat on the ground beside its fallen companions. The iron smell of fresh blood intermixed with an acidic touch filled the air. Yellow-green pus-like blood covered the ground.
Liarie stood there, taking deep breaths. Her left hand was still raised in a fist having been the tool to guide the magic that had caught the final silvrik. What a mess. She reached out with her magic to find the three gamayuns. She quickly sensed the hints of Orsolya and the older gamayun, their presence dwindling as their distance grew. The youth, however, was gone. Whether she was dead or not, Liarie could not tell due to the magical surplus underground concealing anything below.
The thin path where she stood ended abruptly where the rock had fallen, destroying the natural bridge. Once the rock had fallen down, creating the hole, the ground all around along with the path had filled in that gap. She reached out again aiming her senses past the cover over the hole, however she only felt a surge of magic blocking her. A barrier, surely the silvrik. Is it to protect that youth or to entrap her?
She shook her head and turned away to march back towards Riel who was busy creating a rune on the ground with chalk. Close by was Quil, keeping a watchful eye on the silvrik hiding in the shadows. A dozen silvrik lay all around, bodies ripped and torn into pieces.
“I’m glad I don’t have to convince you anymore that we should leave,” Liarie said.
“I despise giving up, but I am no fool,” Quil replied. She levitated a chunk of a pincer separated from its previous owner. Like a spear she flung it forward with her magic to pierce the head of a silvirk that had inched too far out of its hole. Its body flailed helplessly before growing still. “Our magic can keep them at bay with ease for now, but it is only a matter of time before their thaumaturges appear. There is no telling the number they have and with the abundance of magic here, they’d surely win.”
“True.” Liarie looked back to the exit where the remaining two gamayuns had escaped.
“One of them is surely the one who is familiar with this place; they’ll escape I have no doubt,” Quil said.
“Agreed,” Liarie replied.
“What of the youth though?”
“She fell with the rock, but whether she lived or died, I cannot say. The silvrik have a barrier distorting my sense into the pit.” Liarie’s tail flicked in frustration and she looked back to Riel. “I am sorry, Riel. I did not ask; how do you fare?”
“I am well, just a bit twisted, but I shall recover,” Riel replied. He moved the chalk with practiced precision, adding dashes and swirls to the rune.
“I am glad.” Liarie smiled.
“Is the portal almost ready?” Quil asked.
“Nearly,” Riel replied.
“Good, the silvrik are growing restless; I’m sure a fresh wave will charge us in any moment.” Liarie glanced all around at the grouping of eyes watching from the shadows with glints of rage. A whisper caught her attention. Looking about, she was only met with a surrounding darkness enveloping her. Who? Could it be Guidance?
“Why does the familiar wander the Scar when she should be leading her charge to the east?” The voice’s words, spoken with a deep throaty pitch mixed with a snarl behind them, seemed to come from different angles.
“Who’s there?” Liarie twisted around again to see Riel and Quil gone from sight, in their place was now a frozen lake. “How… how did I get here?” Liarie looked all around, her vision limited by the clouds surrounding her. Through glimpses, she caught sight of mountain tops not far off.
“The Guidance awaits for your arrival,” the deep voice said. “Yet you seek what has little importance to the current situation.”
If it isn’t Guidance than whom? “My charge? You mean Bryce?” A deep blue glow in the lake caught her attention. Warily, she approached the lake’s edge. The deep snow dampened her fur, numbing the skin below. Flecks of snow were flicked from side to side from her nervously wagging tail.
“Time runs short if the upheaval is to occur at all.”
“We are heading that direction soon, but we had to complete a task here first.” Coming to the edge, Liarie squinted her eyes trying to get a better view of the deep azure glow beneath the large frozen lake.
“Time dwindles away, fey.”
He has little interest in what I speak; it must be merely a message sent to my mind. Liarie stepped a single hoof out onto the ice, testing it. How did I fall into this realm though? I was surely not exhausted enough; my blood barrier was up. I should just end it and return to reality. Finding the ice firm, Liarie took another step and now atop the ice she began to walk out towards the azure glow. But why was it sent in the first place? Why not to Bryce?
“If you continue to waste time idly, your goals and aspirations will go to waste. Including that of your revenge.”
I should just end it and return to Quil and Riel. She neared the azure glow, through its brilliance she could make out the outlines of something solid, an enormous body. By now the portal should be created. Playing in this magical world is far more dangerous right now with the silvrik close by. Yet what is that glow? She tilted her head in curiosity as she tried to discern the odd shape hidden in the glow. Why can’t I stop walking towards it?
“You do not seem to understand the gravity of the situation, Liarie Majes! Let me show you how little control of the situation you have!”
Liarie eyes opened wide in shock as the head, distorted by the glow and frozen water, suddenly moved toward her with the body following in tow. She tried to move but stood frozen, hooves unwilling to move even as a growing urgency took over her mind.
The ice cracked all around her and a moment later, Liarie found herself aloft in the air, limbs flailing as she tried to grab onto anything before crashing into the freezing water.
Why is it cold? Why can’t I move? Why am I in pain?
“Because I am in control of this domain, which you thought nothing more than a message!”
Liarie fell back into the near pitch-black water. What little light pierced through the water did nothing to reveal the massive presence that moved all around her. Even though she could not see the creature, Liarie felt absolute terror at the reality that her life was in its hands. She tried to look inward to her soul and find the exit back out of the magical realm, but no matter how hard she tried, an invisible wall blocked her focus.
“Your attempts are futile. I hope you realize that now.” The voice seemed to echo all around, distorted further by the water.
Liarie could feel her mind starting to panic as she sunk deeper into the freezing water. I do!
“Your fear is palpable, such joy it brings me.”
In the dim light, Liarie saw the fangs come into view, each one half her size. But in her state of mind, they appeared far larger, easily able to rend her apart with a single bite. I…
“I hope you understand now the urgency of the situation. I too fear, fear that of failure. Failure though will bring a far heavier price to you! Liarie Majes!”
Liarie fixated on the fangs watched in horror as they parted to reveal a terrifying maw that suddenly rushed toward her. She tried to move, but the inability to do so only made her mind go into an even greater panic as madness threatened to latch onto permanently.
“Remember this fear, as time draws ever on!”
The maw enclosed around Liarie in one fell swoop.
A sludge of crimson red washed all around her, threatening to drown her as she scrambled to stay afloat. Her surroundings were nothing more than a void painted the crimson color that drew her ever deeper into the cavernous tunnel.
She let forth a yelp of terror before abruptly she plunged deep into the depths. A numb feeling began to creep along from her limbs to move toward her heart. She tried to focus on spells or even thoughts to try to get a focus on the situation, but each time a spasm of pain would shock her.
In the dark depths she saw glimpses of her friends being killed and torn apart. Zel and Vonna along with many others in the company being faced with a firing squad. Murn being ripped apart. Quil being drained of her blood for sacrificial purposes, sorrow etched into her cracked face.
She recoiled from the horror, closing her eyes to try to look away but the scenes still came to her as clear as if she was standing there as witness to each one.
In the burnt woods of her home she saw Bryce bloodied and broken. Over him stood a massive fey with a large two-handed axe. She flailed about trying to reach her love, her eyes widened as the axe came down. Liarie let forth a silent scream as the axe came down again and again, Bryce becoming still.
Stop! was the only thought she could muster as the pain continued to drive deeper into her mind and heart. Until finally a dullness took her.
“Do not fear the path you have chosen, fear the result if you stray off. I shall see you soon, Liarie Majes.”