My brother has tried to kill me three times, at least three times. Maybe more. I understand. I have watched him all my life. Watched how he coped with being the only person on Adalta with no magic, the magic we call talent. Watched how he coped with being the oldest son and not the heir because he had no talent.
He learned to defend himself with swords, the one in his scabbard and the one in his wit. He learned to earn the respect of his men despite his terrible handicap.
I wondered at his ability to live a full and productive life without even the talent of a farmhand who could barely encourage a few seeds to sprout and grow faster.
I loved him. He tormented me, true, but isn’t that what older brothers are born to do? He never hurt me, not until the assassination attempts began. I loved him even then. I still do. He’s all the family I have now.
He cannot have done what so many others believe he’s done. My brother would not ally himself with the creature that is causing so many deaths. The one I’m fighting now. The creature who will destroy us all if it isn’t stopped.
He cannot have. Whatever others think, he’s a victim. He’s the controlled, not the controller. I know when we kill the Itza Larrak, he’ll be free. Somehow I will free him.
Guardian Daryl Me’Vere looked up from the side of the wounded trooper to see a small dot in the sky grow rapidly larger. Mi’hiru Philipa flying on the back of Cystra, her Karda, approached too fast. So fast he knew they were not carrying an ordinary message. Dread landed so hard on Daryl’s back if he weren’t kneeling already he’d be prostrate on the damp, stinking ground.
He lifted the ravaged arm of the soldier he knelt beside. The young man hissed with pain. His moans blended with the moans and cries that surrounded them, sounds that haunted Daryl day and night and had since the urbat attacks started again with the first warming of spring. They never seemed to fade.
Today’s fight was over. The urbat were gone. Daryl didn’t want to get up and go to the landing field to meet Philipa. He wanted to stay here in the stink of blood and urbat ichor and heal this bloody gash in his trooper’s arm then move on to the wounded woman on the next pallet and the next and the next. He tried to let their moans and cries for help block the message he knew she was bringing, but they couldn’t.
He didn’t want to wait for Philipa to land and tell him what he knew she was going to. He tried to let them block out what he must do next. He didn’t want to call his tired troops together again and lead them to another village under attack and another and another. He tried to let the cries block his doubts. How could he plan defenses against the urbat attacks that seemed to him to rise up everywhere anytime? Was he even the right person to lead this fight?
He worked to close the ragged rip from an urbat’s claw in the troopers arm, drawing on the power of Adalta, concentrated on knitting the tiny vessels and nerves, the muscle fibers. He thought about nothing but this wound before him and the soldier who would be able to use the arm again when Daryl finished. This work helped heal his own wounds, the ones inside him.
The small village reeked from the battle with the urbat. Stinking miasma clung to the ground in a thick, yellow fog that stuck to his clothes, to his skin. Even the cloth wrapped over his mouth and nose and smeared with pine-sap salve didn’t help. He cleared it from the wound it clung to so the arm could heal without infection and ignored, as best he could, the infectious black cloud of dread approaching with Mi’hiru Philipa.
His troopers were scattered along the edge of the small landing meadow, some helping the two village healers move the wounded outside the walls to the inn they’d taken over. They piled dead urbat and salvaging arrows; some worked with villagers gathering too many dead in a too long line just outside the too short walls. The villagers’ voices were low and somber and scared.
As well they should be. Daryl was too polite to curse their obliviousness. He’d sent messengers to warn all the villages near the Circle of Disorder of the dangers. Too many hadn’t listened, hadn’t made the preparations he ordered. What a waste. Did they think he was so young and inexperienced he exaggerated the dangers out of some bloated sense of self-importance? Should he insist Prime Guardian Hugh Me’Rahl take control of this fight? Someone older, wiser, and time-tested?
He closed his eyes and clamped his jaw against seething, fruitless frustration. Then he forced his shoulders to straighten, shoved his worries and doubts inside where they belonged. He couldn’t afford to indulge them now when it did no good. He went to meet Philipa. He had no choice. This was his duty, and these were his people. Show no doubt. Show no fear. Don’t let that seed of panic in his belly take root.
A flash of the library at Restal Hall bit him. How he longed for books and boredom.
Cystra cupped her wings to land and loped to a stop in front of him. Philipa didn’t dismount. “Flat Rock. About fifty urbat are headed for Flat Rock, Daryl. And they’re moving in organized ranks. I think the Itza Larrak is with them. Flat Rock needs help now. The Karda’s best estimate is they’ll be there in less than thirty minutes.”
Daryl’s eyes burned with fatigue, and he scrubbed at his face, wanting to scrub away her words. They’d barely get there in time. The small town, almost a village, was thirty minutes away. Behind him Armsmaster Krager bellowed, “Troopers, mount up. Fast. We’ve got another fight.”
“Get to Me’Mattik Hold, Philipa, it’s not that far from Flat Rock,” Daryl told her. Abala, his Karda, was already approaching the landing field to pick him up, back from hunting. He drew up a mental map of Me’Mattik Hold where Flat Rock was. “We’ll approach from the southeast. Have Holder Me’Mattik’s flyers move in from the north. Maybe we can drive them away from the town and trap them between us. Be sure to tell the holder to watch for the Itza Larrak—and for Adalta's sake, don’t let any of his flyers—I mean troops—approach it. Just let me know where it is.” There were no Karda, no flyers at Me’Mattik Hold.
It was another plan on the fly. Maybe he and his troops would have help this time. Maybe not so many people would die. Maybe he was the wrong person to lead this battle, but he could fight the fight in front of him. Then he would look at the big picture. Something had to change. Even if he had to step down and let someone else take responsibility because maybe—. But he couldn’t think about that now. There was no one else right now. He couldn’t even shrug his shoulders, the weight was so heavy. And the battles had only just begun.
The Itza Larrak was intensifying its attacks. Daryl knew it was drawing attention away from the growing Lines of Devastation creeping out of the Circles of Disorder toward each other, building its continent-wide antenna to reach into space and call to other Larrak to come. The parasitic aliens would destroy this planet.
Cystra and Philipa, the little Mi’hiru, one of the all-women cadre who served the Karda, whirled, loped away, faster and faster, and lifted from the ground they had only just touched.
“Me’Mattik.” Krager’s voice was flat. “Don’t count on Me’Mattik, Daryl.”
“You don’t trust anyone, Krager. I told him to be ready, to be on the watch. He’ll be there.” He’d be there. Me’Mattik had to be there. The village was part of his holding. Daryl refused to let the doubt claw free.
“We can hope.”
“Always the voice of doom, Krager. Check to see everyone who’s able to come with us has enough arrows, and don’t let anyone come who’s too wounded to fight. No matter how badly they want to. I’ll be with the healers as long as I can.”
His Karda Wing was mounted and ready in ten minutes. Abala was saddled and stomping with impatience when Daryl finally stepped from the big Karda’s knee, threw his leg over and settled in the saddle. Abala took off at a lope while he was still buckling his leg straps. Then they were in the air. Daryl pulled down his flight goggles against the rush of the wind. Only the thunder of Abala’s wings filled the silence of flight, the comforting sound of wings beating up and down as they climbed.
Perhaps the Itza Larrak would be at Flat Rock. Maybe he’d be able to assess the damage it had taken in the last battle when the approaching cold of winter had weakened it and it disappeared back into its Circle of Disorder with its urbat. Tessa and Kishar had almost severed one of its wings.
He could still smell the stink of urbat on his clothes. He drew on his Air talent and let the wind suck it away until he could smell the cold, clean air of flight. He’d been flying Abala since he was a child. Daryl relaxed into the big Karda’s movements. Rested. Let the wind pull his hair loose from its tie. Closed his eyes and rested. Let the wind pull the fears, the doubts, the anger, the tiredness out of him, let it flow through him and out the ends of the hair streaming behind his head.
As soon as spring began to fight off the icy hold of winter, the urbat attacks had renewed in earnest. The Itza Larrak, the awakened alien, was sending them at the small towns and villages all over the south end of the Circle of Disorder where it laired over the winter. Sometimes it was with them—those were always the most devastating attacks—sometimes they appeared without it. The season had barely begun to warm, and already the alliance’s troops were tiring trying to counter the scatter-shot tactics it used to keep the planters away from its circle with their remediating trees and plants. If it didn’t, the plants would eventually destroy the circle, its refuge.
Abala tilted his wings and began to drop, startling Daryl awake. ~Are we already there?~ Daryl spoke mind to mind to the Karda. ~It’s a thirty minute flight. Have I been asleep?~
~You snored so loud I could feel it rumbling through the saddle.~
Abala’s telepathic voice was bell-clear in his head. As usual, the big Karda’s voice anchored him.
Daryl’s fifteen riders on their magnificent hawk-headed flying horses circled the landing field outside the small town of Flat Rock. Huge, monstrous doglike creatures, half metal, half flesh, shoulders and necks covered with triangular metal scales, surged over the walls into the village. They’d arrived just before Daryl’s flyers. From high in the air Daryl could hear the ringing beat of their stubby metallic wings. A sound he’d grown to hate. A sound that sang sorrow to his ears. A song that sang failure in his ears.
At his signal, Karda and riders swooped across the field. Daryl watched Karda snatch unwary urbat in their needle sharp talons, carry them high above and drop them to their deaths in the middle of the throng attacking the gates. The gruesome sight roused sickening satisfaction inside him. Sickening to the gentler part of him, satisfying to the fighter part—the part he called on now.
Their riders aimed arrows at the urbat below them as they poured through the gates their long metal claws shredded like tissue. They tore through the streets after townspeople and his few guards stationed there who fought with swords, spears, axes, even hoes—whatever they could grab. His people were tough, resilient. They wouldn’t stop. His pride swelled when he spotted two half-grown children, a boy and a girl, tucked next to a chimney on a roof where the urbat couldn’t get at them, firing arrows with careful shots at the monsters in the street below.
The Karda patrollers didn’t need his guidance—by now they knew only too well what to do, how to attack. His mouth pulled back in a fierce grin. A wide sortie to assess, to look for the Itza Larrak, and he could join the fight. This wouldn’t be another Ardencroft, unwarned, undefended, unaware.
Daryl and Abala dropped down to twelve meters, twice as high as the urbat could reach with their stubby wings and massive bodies. They crossed the wall he noted with irritation was too short and made a circle above the small, slate-roofed stone houses and shops of the village. There was no sign of Me’Mattik. Only a scattered few of his troopers fighting with the villagers. Anger at this betrayal added to the despair that drooped like a stubborn shroud over Daryl’s shoulders. Even the anticipated fight couldn’t dispel it.
Why was Me’Mattik not here? Why were there only a small number of his troopers below? This small farm town was part of his hold, and not far from his keep. It was his responsibility to protect it. Where was he? He must have defected to Readen’s rebellion against the so-called aristocracy of talent, weakening the battle against the alien Itza Larrak and adding to the problem Daryl would have to confront when, or was it if, he won this war. Hot blood flooded him. Icy dread fought it.
He didn’t have time to think about that betrayal, that future, not now. Screams and urbat snarls and howls rose beneath him. The clang of swords and hoes and scythes against the urbat armor rang, shoving those thoughts out. The savage brutes swarmed through the small town, and the people fought with everything they had. His people. This wasn’t the time to think about Me’Mattik and Readen; it was the time to think about defending his people.
Below him, a terrified unarmed villager stumbled to his knees, an urbat half-flying, half-falling at him. A second villager ran to shove his short-bladed spear overhead at the creature’s belly and impaled it. The impact knocked the man down, but he scrambled to his feet, put his foot against the urbat, pulled his weapon free and slashed it across the throat. Thick yellow ichor ran in runnels between the cobblestones. Daryl swallowed at the sight of the thin tracery of red human blood that threaded through it, forming a picture of terrible, shocking beauty.
Daryl flew on and the picture disappeared behind them. He drew on his talent. Firebolts—long, narrow projectiles of flame—shot from his spread fingers, one after another. He incinerated every urbat he caught in the open, careful of the villagers and the buildings. He fired and fired until Abala peeled away to beat his way up into the air and beyond the walls. He jerked around in the saddle trying to turn his Karda back. There were still too many urbat on the ground.
~What are you doing, Abala? They’re still fighting.~ He didn’t have to think about speaking the words from inside his head to Abala’s. He’d been doing it since Abala came to him when he was a lonely child of three.
~And you have depleted your talent. You are so tired I can feel you sway in the saddle. We have other work to do. Another kind of monster to find.~
Daryl scrubbed his hands through his hair. He wasn’t tired, he was angry. He needed to fight. But Abala circled ever higher, and Daryl slumped in the saddle. This gave him too much time to think, and thinking wasn’t what he wanted now. Thinking brought a thin tracery of doubt running through his battle rage. Was he the right person to be leading this battle? He wasn’t ready for this responsibility, didn’t want this responsibility, didn’t want to think about the larger battle picture. He wanted to fight. He wanted to kill urbat.
Then he saw Philipa and Cystra. They flew close, and Philipa held up both arms and shook her head. Daryl’s shoulders slumped lower before he caught himself and pushed away all those thoughts he didn’t want. Me’Mattik wasn’t coming. Now wasn’t the time for self-reflection, for doubt. He watched Philipa pull out her bow and headed for the town. Like most Mi’hiru, she was deadly with that bow from the air. He wanted to follow her, but Abala was right on both counts. The Itza Larrak had to be found, and Daryl's power had to be replenished.
He’d misread Me’Mattik. The nowhere-in-sight Me’Mattik. Trusted where trust wasn’t returned.
He took several long, deep breaths and pulled strength from the air, the clouds, the sky. Restoring his power through elemental Air without touching the ground was difficult—impossible for most—but there wasn’t time to land to draw power from deep in Adalta. Slowly it built like thunderclouds roiling and boiling in the sky, filling him, pushing away his uncertainty, giving free rein to his anger and determination.
While it built, he and Abala flew a sortie over the fields and trees around the village, searching for the Itza Larrak. He knew it needed to be within sight of the gates to control its urbat. Daryl strengthened his shields against a possible attack from the alien’s powerful psychic force field and flew low, searching, searching. All too aware of the fight in the town. All too aware he was needed there. All too aware he needed to be in six places at any one time.
Off to his right, a small group of men trapped in a red stone quarry fought off ten urbat with picks and long, heavy pry bars—only two of them armed with swords, another with a short spear. They would lose.
Abala pathed to Daryl, ~You are too depleted of talent to use firebolts.~
Daryl stopped him before he could go on. ~Just get us a little closer.~
Abala dove. Daryl extended his arm, spread his fingers, and a bolt of fire flew toward an urbat, burning it to stinking cinders. Abala flew, wings near vertical, in tight arcs around the fight, and Daryl struck another, and another—every urbat far enough from the fighting men, who finally drove the rest of the monsters off and ran for the town gates waving their thanks to Karda and rider. A small victory, but Daryl could use every victory that came along.
Abala straightened and beat his wings hard to gain altitude. They wheeled around again, widening their search over brown fields near the river and the forest to the east wearing a haze of new green leaves and purple buds, but never out of sight of the small town. Daryl split his concentration between drawing power from Air and searching for the Itza Larrak—the alien driving the urbat, controlling them—its minions, its creations.
~There, in that small grove of pines at the far edge of the runway,~ Daryl pathed. ~I can feel the Larrak.~ A flash of anger and denial shuddered through him like a comet trailing a smoky tail of doubt. His brother Readen couldn’t have, wouldn’t have willingly loosed this monster on Restal Quadrant.
Daryl knew better than to waste power attacking it. The Larrak’s shield was too strong for one fighter. Ten of Adalta’s powerful talents had fought it in the battle last fall. It had killed one, almost killed another, and escaped. Not unhurt, but it had vanished into its Circle of Disorder where they couldn’t follow. Daryl looked as closely as he could through the monster’s pearlescent shield. The wing that Tessa, the Austringer, and Kishar, her Karda—the only ones who could follow it into the circle that was its refuge—had nearly severed was repaired. The circle where nothing lived but the Itza Larrak and the urbat spawned there. This was the first time he’d gotten a good look at it since it reemerged. The frustration and anger he’d felt when they couldn’t follow and finish what they’d started surged, and he tensed against the grief for the friends lost, for his troops who’d fought and died.
Merenya. For a moment, all he could see was the spray of blood from her Karda’s wing and the vision of their twisting, turning fall to earth. Too many friends, too many of his patrollers gone because of this alien being. Such unnecessary deaths. What did it want? What did it fight for?
He was fighting for his people. The Itza Larrak had no people. It had creatures but not people, not beings like it. Survival. It needed to survive. Perhaps, like him, like a human, survival wasn’t possible for it alone. Daryl cursed his need to understand everything. It was simpler to have an alien enemy than an enemy he could understand, could imagine, could see what it fought for. It wasn’t human. It didn’t think in human terms. But survival. Survival wasn’t only a human need.
If it had to exterminate humans to survive, it would. If Daryl had to exterminate it for his people to survive, he would.
~We’ve found it, Abala. Now let’s go see if our new tactic works.~ The big roan peeled off toward the village, landed, and loped to a stop beside Philipa and Cystra.
Philipa unfastened her quiver of quarrels from the saddle rig, pulled her small crossbow from its holder, and slid to the ground. She adjusted her sword belt, and started after Daryl.
He stopped and turned to speak to her.
She spoke first, her small body tense. “Don’t tell me to go back up there and just watch that monster.”
Her face was as tight as her white-knuckled grip on her crossbow. Daryl didn’t dare tell her she couldn’t go, and they headed for the gates.
Outside the wall, a ring of six people, six people with strong Air talent, formed, securely guarded by armed villagers and four troopers wearing tunics in Me’Mattik’s colors, the only ones Daryl had seen. Two women ran through the gates to join them, a young boy right behind them. One of them called to Daryl, between pants for air, “Where is the Itza Larrak? Are we close enough? I think I can feel it.”
“The stand of pines to the southeast of the landing field. I felt its force field shoving at Abala and me. Form up here against the wall close to the gates. I’ll help you locate it and monitor you until you find it.” Daryl didn’t let a hint of his worry about how prepared they were show on his face. He swallowed the bitter taste of it.
A woman already seated cross-legged on the ground, her skirts tucked under her, looked at the boy, anguished questions in her eyes. He spoke between panting breaths. “Mom, Maddy is all right. She’s on the roof of the cottage with three quivers of arrows and a spear, firing as fast as she can. Do you need me here to back you up? If not, I’ll be with the healers.”
She gripped his hand hard. “Don’t worry about me. Go to the healers and stay out of the way of the urbat. Don’t get killed. You’ll be in big trouble if you get yourself hurt.” He headed back toward the gates and bumped into Daryl. He stopped, his face bright with relief and a tinge of hero worship.”Thank Adalta you’re here, Guardian Daryl, now we have a chance.”
The boy ran as fast as he could back to the village and the healers, and Daryl bit his lip and watched him go. A chance. He hoped so. In the final battle last fall his troops had trapped several urbat alive. He, several Karda, and the best Air talent minds he could find had studied them and the Itza Larrak’s connection to them as long and as intensely as they could. The vicious doglike armored monsters had kept fighting with a singleness of fury—until the alien cut its tie to them, and they milled about in confusion. Daryl could fight with singleness of fury, too. The thunderhead of Air talent inside him roiled with fury and arced with a lightning-arrowed singleness of purpose his doubts couldn’t confuse. Not right now. He watched the boy run for the gates and the healers.
The eight people, the village’s strongest Air talents, sat in a tight ring on the ground— still, knees touching. This was the first time anyone had applied the spell techniques developed over the winter. Daryl and several of the best Air talents in the Prime had spend long, cold hours in the air flying to the bigger villages near the circle, spreading the the spell. This time the urbat had attacked a town big enough to have enough Air talents. A chance. Daryl forced himself to breathe. It had to work. He watched them settle in, gather their Air talent, and reach out to one another to connect. He touched one man gently on the shoulder. “Ground, first.” The man straightened, then relaxed into the cross-legged posture these people would hold for hours fighting the Itza Larrak’s psychic attacks.
The Itza Larrak stepped out of the pine grove to the edge of the landing field. A tall, broad figure of light-absorbing black chitinous armor. Part metal and part flesh, the Larrak was a grotesque blend of insect and humanoid. Its enormous pierced metal wings never stopped moving, sounding a soft, singing susurrus. It raised its hands, and long, taloned fingers wove complicated symbols in the air.
Despite himself, its eerie beauty caught Daryl. Shaking his attention loose, he drew on Adalta and strengthened his shields just as it threw wave of terror across the field—a psychic wall of terror that froze anything without strong shields, human, animal, or Karda. The eight people swayed, straightened, and held firm, whispering the spell they’d worked on for the past four tendays.
After a few minutes, the ring swayed again then righted itself, pushing a psychic field that rocked the Itza Larrak. They settled in for the long battle for control. He hoped the spell they’d developed worked. If it didn’t, troops, villagers—anyone trying to fight who didn’t have strong, very strong personal shields were vulnerable and helpless against the urbat. Those with strong shields would be left to fight alone. They wouldn’t be enough and another village would be lost.
Daryl breathed deep. The ring swayed and recovered again. The mix of anger at what he fought and the fear for his people that clenched his belly muscles eased. He dropped to his knees, placed his hands flat on the earth, drawing strength from Adalta, restoring Earth and Water talent power inside him, feeling it move up through him from deep in the heart of the planet. He knelt there for several long minutes strengthening his life connection to the source of his talent, sinking into it, into the rocks, the soil, the underground streams, into the heart of Adalta. Until the headiness of the power of the planet flowing through him and the sounds of the battle in the village pulled him back to his purpose.
Finally replete, he sat back on his heels and took a last look at the ring of eight Air talents. They swayed and recovered, swayed and recovered, but held against the Itza Larrak. The power of Adalta surrounded them in whirling wind that lifted their hair and tugged at their clothes.
Then he stood, drew his sword, flexed the fingers of his left hand, and headed through the gates at a fast walk. Abala thundered back into the air to search for unwary urbat. The armor on their necks protected them, but it also prevented them from looking up to see a Karda bearing down on them, long, needle-sharp talons extended. Daryl ran through the gates, Philipa on his heels, and grabbed the arm of the first patroller he saw. “Krager? Where’s Armsmaster Krager?”
“Sir, the fiercest fighting is between the grain storehouse and the tavern. You’ll find him there. I was waiting for you. To watch your back.”
“Let’s go then, Wingman Arden. Tell me what you know on the way.” As long as Krager was still alive, all was right with the world.
The two men and the Mi’hiru jogged toward the center of the small town, checking each intersection for signs of fighting. Suddenly Arden grabbed Daryl’s arm. “Over there, sir. Look.” His voice rang, not with danger, or with the thrill of the fight, but as if he saw something impossible.
There, in the middle of the next intersection, were four urbat, milling aimlessly and weaving around each other. Sometimes a head would droop, the urbat shaking it furiously. One pawed at its face, leaving deep scratches weeping yellow down its muzzle.
“What’s wrong with them?”
Philipa fired her crossbow, crippling one. Daryl waited till the others were as close together as he thought they would get, shook out his left hand and shot three firebolts, incinerating them just as their heads cleared and focused on the three of them.
His lungs filled again. The Itza Larrak had lost control over these urbat for a moment. A significant moment.
He didn’t stop to explain or celebrate but headed around the corner to the town square where the fighting was most intense. In the midst of it, Armsmaster Krager watched, shouted orders, and fought, never missing a smooth stroke of his two swords aimed for the urbat’s few vulnerable spots. He beheaded an urbat on a backstroke and shouted to send two troopers to a corner where three more urbat appeared. He was alive and unhurt—a flash of relief went through Daryl.
He took a couple of seconds to orient himself, then he didn’t have time or thought for anything but his sword and his firebolts and killing monsters. He fought, lost all track of time, keeping his feet in the rivers of blood and gelatinous yellow ichor running between the cobblestones, keeping track of where he was, where the troopers and Krager were, where Philipa was shooting from. She moved along the edge of the square, loosing bolt after bolt from her crossbow. Tipped with razor heads of salvaged urbat metal bones, they could pierce the creatures’ armor, sometimes killing, sometimes wounding them for swordsmen to finish off.
An urbat faltered, dropped its head and shook it, an easy target for the farmer’s scythe behind it. Another faltered, and another. Then every urbat head snapped up, and the creatures ran for the gate or flew over the wall, some stumbling, a few confused and wandering, soon dead at the swords of the following patrollers and fighting villagers.
They were leaving—running, flying, leaping the wall, tearing through the gate. What happened? He didn’t care. They were leaving. The psychic circle. What happened at the circle? He started toward the gates.
Krager walked beside Daryl. “What in the name of our lady Adalta happened here?”
“I hope the ring of Air talents worked, thank blessed Adalta. I hope it was because they held off the Itza Larrak’s psychic field and interfered with its control of the urbat. It had to call them back or lose them.”
He scrubbed his hands through his hair and rubbed at the back of his neck, feeling the adrenaline sustaining him leach away. His head ached, and he forced himself not to tremble by gripping his sword hilt so tight his hand hurt. “Send small teams through the village. Check every house, every building, under every rock. Gather the wounded here in the main room of the inn.” He waved at the building behind Krager. “I need to check on the Air team, then I’ll be back here with the wounded.” He walked faster and faster until he was running toward the gates, fearing what he would find. Krager, already shouting orders, headed in the other direction.
When he cleared the gates, the clamp of fear tightened on his abdomen again. All eight of the Air talents lay sprawled on the ground, eyes closed, bodies not moving. He skidded to a stop when one of the men rolled over, pushed himself up on one arm, and raised the other, hand fisted in a victory sign.
It had worked. The experimental spell had worked. The circle of Air talents had disrupted the connection between the Larrak and its monsters. More urbat had been killed here than at any of the other villages they’d attacked this spring. With hope and relief, he watched the other members of the circle stir and sit up, tired faces lighting with elation and triumph. He had a new tactic in this war for survival.
The man’s voice hoarse and weary, he grated out, “We did it. We forced it away. We forced the Itza Larrak to back away and sent the urbat home with their damn tails between their legs.” Then he fell back, exhausted.