When he woke again The Captain found himself bouncing along in the back of a wagon, arm splinted and leg bandaged. "Ugh," he groaned, sitting up with the aide of his one good arm. 

"Welcome back to the land of the living," Her Ladyship greeted him. She was on horseback, pacing the cart on one side. 

"The rain stopped," he observed. "How close are we?"

"Close. As I understand it we're going to stop just short of the city and wait through part of the night, then march the rest of the way so we can attack in the morning. How are you feeling?"

"I've been better, but I'll live. At least for a little while longer," he added.

"You're lucky we have Esme with us. She's a talented magical healer; if not for her you would still be in far worse shape." 

He lapsed into silence and tried to put his thoughts together through the haze of pain. He found his memories of the attack fuzzy and disjointed. One, however, stood out from the rest - the demon bursting into flame as he stared it down over his shredded arm. 

"What happened in the tent?" he asked.

"The demon attacked you... remember?"

"Don't look at me like that," he told her. "I remember. It's just... the thing caught fire, didn't it? How?"

"Oh, that. I threw one of the oil lamps at it," she said. "Why?"

"For a moment I almost thought... never mind. It's not important." With a groan he lowered himself back down and stared up at the sky as daylight began to fade towards night. 


The last strategy session was held in the dead of night. The commanders of the army gathered underneath their tent, maps illuminated by candles and lamps. The Captain was there, sitting in a rickety camp chair while a newly assigned aide hovered protectively nearby. 

"What is it, exactly?" Wellesley asked.

"It was meant to house the inventor's workshops during the Technology Fair," The Captain told them. "It's got a basic palisade but wasn't intended to be a defensible position. Not against an all out attack, anyway."

"Still, it's better than open ground. Scouts report that it has only a handful of demons crawling around it. If we push in quickly we could take it before the horde reaches us, use it as a makeshift fort."

"Do we really want to get tied down like that?" Howe asked. "If we're to escape after the Headwind accomplishes it's mission we'll need room to maneuver. Put our men in the palisade and they'll get surrounded, cut off."

"Not to mention there's no room for all of them," The Captain added. "Thought it might make a good defensible position for a headquarters, or a field hospital. Maybe we can use it as a last chance fallback position should things go badly." 

"That may be our best option," Wellesley agreed. 

"What's the horde doing now?" Howe asked. "Have they moved from the city yet?"

"Surprisingly, no," The Captain shook his head. "Though the few men who have gotten close enough and returned to report say there's definitely something going on. Hard to guess what, of course."

"Of course," Wellesley agreed. "Ok then, here's the battle plan. We'll move against the city in this formation," he placed a line of unit markers on a map that showed the countryside immediately around Marsten. "We'll drive towards the gate as if we intend to enter the city. I expect we'll encounter resistance among the buildings well before we reach the walls, however. As soon as we do we fall back in this direction, pull as many of them out of the city after us as we can. Then we'll make a stand here..."


It would have been a beautiful morning, Noman thought, had circumstances been different. He stood just inside a window on the third floor of the building he'd been using as an observation post, watching the square. The Shadows couldn't cloak him during the day, so he stayed inside and relied on them to keep other demons from wandering too closely. They seemed a territorial bunch, the demons, and thankfully none were inclined to intrude on the Shadow's claim. 

Noman, a voice murmured from his coat pocket. Stepping further away from the window he pulled out the Watch's communication stone. 

"I'm here," he said simply, keeping his voice soft. He didn't know how many demons were nearby, or how good their hearing was. Better safe than sorry, at least until things kicked off.

This is it. Everything's ready. The attack starts soon and the Headwind is on its way.

"Understood," he replied, an unfamiliar feeling of nervousness chewing at his insides. "Good luck," he told them. "You'll need it."

Good luck yourself, Noman. We'll see you when it's over.

He deactivated the stone and held it loosely, thumb tracing a line across its smooth surface. "We'll see about that," he said to nobody in particular. He turned to a Shadow that was skulking in a corner of the room. "Gather the others. Be quick," he told it, and the tame demon sped from the room.

He didn't have to wait long for the battle to start. Even as the Shadows began entering the room by ones and twos he could hear the distant report of rifle fire. It was sporadic at first, like someone letting a handful of pebbles slowly fall from their hand onto a table. As he listened it grew in intensity, pebbles hitting the table in a steady shower. 

Through the window he watched as demons hurried towards the sound, screeching and wailing their eagerness to join the fight. Four of the demons standing around the alter, their vigil unbroken since Noman had first seen them, broke away. There was no conversation, no orders given that he could see, they simply went, leaving Olian and another behind with the stone. Could it be that easy? 

"No," he told himself, "Nothing's ever that easy." 

So he held back the urge to go now, to move while there were only the two of them, and waited until the Headwind started it's own attack. The Shadows seemed to react to his harnessed eagerness; a chorus of agitated hissing and clacking rising from their throats.

 "Come on," he hissed himself, fist clenching and releasing in a steady rhythm as he strained his ears and searched what sky he could see. "Where are you?"

At last he heard the now familiar sound of the Headwind's rotors. He rushed to another window, trying to find the airship against the clear blue background of the sky. He drew a sharp breath when he finally spotted it sailing in over the city's walls. A group of winged demons dogged the airship, swooping in to land on it's hull and wreak havoc. He saw a flash of magical energy fly from the top of the Headwind. It lashed out to strike a demon, then again. Volker and his friend, no doubt, trying to protect the airship. 

It did them little good. As he watched a demon, by accident or design, found itself caught up in one of the propellers. It was shredded instantly, a fate shared by the spinning blade. With it's primary means of lift disrupted the Headwind began to fall, listing to one side in what quickly became a slow spiral. Unable to steer properly the airship missed its intended target and landed hard amid the buildings some blocks away from the Ivory Tower. The flying demons circled the crash site like vultures, and as he watched other demons began racing across rooftops to investigate. 

"Shit," he rubbed a hand on his forehead. He raced back to the window overlooking the square and saw Olian and his companion looking in the direction of the crash. The former mage pointed and the companion left. Noman silently cheered the development until Olian picked up Airea's anchor and headed away from the square. "Follow him!" he ordered one of the Shadows. It went running for the stairs, easily outpacing Noman as he followed it out into the street. The rest of the Shadows formed a loose pack around him as he ran, one pushing out in front of him to lead the way. Whichever way it turned he followed, trusting that it would lead him to its fellow Shadow and thus to Olian. 

The End

107 comments about this story Feed