A barrage of blasts ripped through the air to fly my way and I realized with a fair measure of fear that you can’t block them all. Summoning another surge of spell energy I sprinted to evade them instead. But I wasn’t the only one who would have trouble dodging a whole horde of harrying attacks.
“Glitch,” I called aloud. “Let them fly and put some holes in this book-breaker!” I could hear the clicker-clack of Glitch’s hand crank and it made me smile all the more. A volley of shinning steel spat into the air and sought out the SpellHound turned sorceress. Some of the bolts slammed into the ground with a rain-like thud while others hammered against an unseen curtain of force.
Wynna was all but cackling at her cleverness as she escaped any lasting harm from Glitch’s creation with only a handful of projectiles piercing her protection to strike anywhere near to her. I saw her mirth and raised her a growl. Power lanced up from my belly and thundered through my arm to envelop my blade. There was a single word, etched along its flat and I found it already on my lips.
“Houndstooth,” I said and the word reverberated through me with a deep resonate echo. Every SpellHound has some name they give their weapon of office. For some it is an assigned moniker, for others it is just a label to hang on there ever-present companion. I spoke the name of my own sword and felt every enchantment ever laid into it stir to life. The blade of a SpellHound, regardless of its form is an effective tool – a badge of office no matter how much of its inherent potency is put to use. I had rarely ever had any need to call on it, even before I left the service to the throne. Since then it had been left to slumber. I suppose I had felt bad for removing its edge, or maybe I just didn’t want to wake it and be reminded of how together we had done our duty for so long before I couldn’t bear the burden any longer.
Now it was awake again, and I shoved a spark of power into it. It responded with all the obedience I had every expectation that it would and an arcane aura appeared along its length. I had no sharp bite to give Houndstooth any real teeth like it once had, but I could lend it some of the stored spell power instead. It greedily greeted that pouring power and yearned to be sent into service.
Another series of short steel bolts shot out again at Wynna and she effortlessly kept them at bay. I pushed my own feelings of unfairness aside and replaced them with the unspoken oath of balancing the scales she seemed to think were tipped to her side. My mouth snapped open and pure authority announced itself to challenge her.
“Wynna Snowsong,” I shouted out with the commanding edge of a SpellHound. “I hereby bound you with the charges of treason, dereliction of duty, malicious use of magic, murder of both innocents as well as SpellHounds in service to the throne and willful breech of your sworn oath. For these crimes you will answer, accept your fate or face me now.”
I could feel the full weight of the words as they left my lips and hit her with all the impact they used to. But I wasn’t a SpellHound in the service of the throne anymore. Only those still in the service of performing their duty had the ability to call on the given authority invested to them. I had only expected to go through the motions out of formality. Color me surprised.
Wynna stood transfixed by my challenge for a few breaths; obviously I wasn’t alone in the land of shock and surprise. It was cold naked hunger that eventually broke the hold that had held her compliant to my commands. Her eyes had narrowed their gaze on my blade and the power pulsing within it – from me. And I had no doubts about what was motivating her madness now. She was feeling the hunger of her arcane addiction. Here I was looking like a tasty treat; lucky me.
With the frenzy of a starving beast Wynna charged me, Glitch kept up his bolt barrage as she did. Right up until she closed the distance between us I could still see the glint of the gremlin’s tiny tips colliding with her conjured shield. Once he no longer had a clear shot I noticed the spinning stream of shooting steel stop. And I was eternally grateful to Glitch for keeping me out of the line of fire. Although, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t afford him much to kill me before I paid him the remainder of his wages. Even if he could have just picked over my pockets, thankfully he wasn’t aware of that fact.
Wynna’s movements were a dizzying blur of rushing blows and jerking jabs. I couldn’t allow myself any time to think about my reactions and relied on pure reflex instead. Ducking a savage swipe from her sword, I dropped down and immediately tumbled into a roll. I had learned my lesson from before and in so doing avoided being bashed by her rod. My dagger was forgotten in my off hand and I lashed out with a quick swipe of my blade instead.
It was an act of impulse, seizing the second an opening presented itself to slip any attack in I could. The edge of my enchanted blade rippled as it met the magic surrounding her and severed its way through the shield of sorcery. Without any sharpness on the weapon, my sword couldn’t cut through her armor with the same success. But as it bludgeoned into the back of her thighs the charge of channeled conjuration reacted violently to the touch and unleashed itself into an explosion.
Raw arcane power ravaged the air around us with shimmering waves of heat and flame. Everything that I could see was shaded in bright blues, silvers, purples and whites. Somehow the connection between Wynna and the magic she had shaped around herself was cleaved in two and she yelped out in agony as it fell absent from her. I could feel my senses clear as they became free of her blinding blizzard.
Every scrap of stored spell power was rammed as fast as I could push it into my sword’s tip and before she could recover I shoved it at the small of her back. It slid cleanly into the armor waiting there, introduced itself and then moved on to impale itself into the flesh found inside. As the bloodied blade met the air on the other side a gasp carried the displaced breath from her lungs as well so that the two sounds married themselves into a melancholy music.
My vision dimmed and I could feel myself falling into the weakness of absolute exhaustion. I had nothing left in me and I could feel Wynna’s body fall limp to the ground. The mechanical motion carrying Wynna to the ground also slid my sword free from her as well.
I had just killed my friend. I had just stabbed someone in the back, literally. There wasn’t any strength left in me to even decide which of the two would haunt me the more. Neither of which would I ever have predicted of having been capable of.
All I wanted was to lay there with my shame and swim in an endless sea of sleep. But a series of quick tugs at my shoulder demanded my attention. When I looked up through the cloud of confusion I saw Glitch, a panicked expression etched into his face. He was pointing at something – someone who was approaching as if it warranted worrying about.
I didn’t care whose blurred body was walking this way. My job was done and I was too tired to move, much less do any victory dances. I was done; simple as that.
“You were warned what would happen if I caught you with blood on your blade,” a voice as icy and dangerous as a glacier calmly commented. Through the fog of my fumbling mind I struggled with whether or not to bother with the effort of putting a name to the speaker. But as soon as they spoke again, I didn’t have to.
“I knew you were behind this and now I have you at the very scene of the crime. Finally, I will have the pleasure of extinguishing your stained existence from the respected ranks of any who ever bore the banner of the SpellHound.”
“Hey there Corrin,” I said too tired to add the cheery sarcasm I preffered when addressing the man. “Always entertaining when we can get together, but as usual you have it completely wrong. It was the other way around; Wynna was the one behind it and my blade was required to put an end to it.”
“Tricks and falsehood,” spat Corrin. For once I couldn’t fault his disbelief – I never could have believed it myself had I not had to stand against her. Even now my conscience was questioning my decision to deal a deadly blow. What if I could have brought her back? Could she have, with help, been salvaged from her madness? Now I’d never know.
Magic flowed and formed around Corrin’s empty hands; I didn’t even need to look at him – I could feel it. For the second time today I was standing in the presence of a SpellHound capable of slinging spells. Now it made sense; Corrin didn’t rely on his massive sword to eliminate his foes because he didn’t need to. The man was a mage himself.
In the face of another arcane assault I realized that all it might take would be another well channeled chance and I could siphon some of the magic to fight back. But at what cost, I wondered? Would I kill Corrin too like I did Wynna? And if I did manage to overcome him what kind of shape would that leave me in afterwards?
No. Sometimes you just have to face your fate and accept what awaits you.
“Go ahead, Cindercleave, do what you feel is right,” I surrendered. But apparently I wasn’t the one to get the last word in. Maeredith’s voice rang out next, clear as a fresh summer rain. What could she want?
“Corrin Cindercleave, by the authority invested in me as an acting Justicar I do hereby order you to halt your hostility.” My vision had faltered even further and now only vague degrees of darkness remained. I couldn’t see where Maeredith was or even if Corrin was complying. Honestly I wasn’t sure I cared how this was going to end. I just wanted it to be over, no matter what form it took.
“A formal investigation has been issued into the matter and former SpellHound Nathanial Vaen is to be considered excluded from suspicion. This comes from the mouth of Aethen Wyatt himself and is to be considered his personal proclamation on the matter. You will accept the will of a Wyatt, will you not?”
I must have truly been in bad shape; I would have thought I would be giggling like a grinning girl right now. Instead I was sinking further into sweet shadows and silence. The world melted away into midnight and the last words I heard was Corrin complain.
“About as smart as going to battle with a shattered shield,” Corrin cursed. A small hand was still gripping my shoulder and I took some comfort in knowing Glitch had stayed at my side. I made a mental note to inspect my belongings the moment I was conscious again just in case.
Blackness was bliss.