The arrow lurched free with a groaning, agonized shriek of steel on iron - the sound suddenly squelched by a pulpy splurch as the broadhead disengaged from the ruined helm and began the quicker recovery through the ruined brains and orbit of the soldier at his feet. A grunt and a twist later and the missile tore free, leaving him tired and panting as he kicked free of his brace upon the man's chest. Still glistening that deep, midnight red Rook let the arrow fall to the earth where it joining its piled kin with a whisper clatter, leaving Rook to turn and look at the seemingly endless array of corpses
One half dozen down, another half to go. And his count but a fraction of the whole.
Moving between the bodies and the slickening, bloodied mud that once was earth Rook found himself turning to count the score with an almost amused incredulity. He knew the reluctant disbelief in him to be borne of no real thing: combined in arms they had slain gods, demons, men in numbers and turns. He was not now the hapless lad he was all those years ago, tumbling between the towers, naught but a dagger in his grip. They were, each of them, formidable. Combined they were terrifying, enough that the even kings might fear. It had been proven, and proven again but still … to kill a wyrm, a lich, a thing was one matter. To put a mortal cost upon their skill quite another.
Two score and ten. And more. An entire company.
Rook hauled back with a grunt as another arrowed staggered free, the tines of the head carrying a gob of … something that resisted his first, tentative shake aimed at dislodging it. Seven. In Her name he wondered at it all; he was blessed of her, with as memory as certain as time but it had all transpired too quick, too hard for his attention to be paid upon all that transpired. Moving from fallen to fallen, retrieving their means of death, he found himself meditating on his recollections, trying to piece the slaughter (for there was no other name for it) together.
Klesst had tempered his folly: even as the horns alarum echoed and died, smothered by the verdant green of the volcanic hills and they heard the first tromping footfalls beneath the canopy he KNEW this. He had be discovered at precisely the right place and at precisely the right time: here amidst the cyclopean ruins the terrain was funneled into the waiting, eager arms of the Paladin and his cohort, the Ver'lite and the Scribner-Priest and would force the enemy to fight no more than three, four abreast. And above . . above the Daemon danced, flying, cackling, reveling in his borrowed omnipotence while the Gnomling flew, relaying warning from above. And upon the walls, suspended between heaven and earth? The Monk. The Thief-turned-Warrior Stringing bows and reading bolts to rain uncontested upon the approaching ranks. And all the while as they readied they had the time, the precious seconds to cloak themselves in temper their blades with dweomers.
And then they had waited.
The approach was rhythmic, methodical - the study, banging, clanging footfalls of armor in the underbrush as an ink-like blackness stirred up in churning columns from beneath the leaves, making the company's progress and blotting out the sun. Foot by mailed foot, slowly coming into view …
He hadn't seen it come into being, conjured from aether and the mages hand but from above he could hear the gnome cackle an order, the air itself seeming to compress and twist, shimmering in the heat as it descended, howling like a tornado and slamming bodily into the front ranks of Aeroline; a reaving wind that whirled and struck and stole the very breath from the lungs of the hapless soldiers. Twenty heartbeats, no more, and he could hear them dying. From within the ranks the roiling abyssal smoke pulsed, writhing, impossibly stalwart against the maelstrom air as the dark in it twisted, clawing at the smoke in a pantomime of limbs growing, slowly, ripping their way into reality as below the men, darkness behind them and wind between them, advanced into the open. And then, the arrows began to fall.
Thufark's crossbow sang, low and growling as bolts lanced into the massed arms below - catching officers and bannermen in throats and arms, pinning them to the ground to be trampled if they were not already dead. Rook's own glassen bow whispered a crystal note as the magic left it, arrows splitting, shimmering in the air as they fell, finding officers, soldiers of their own and striking them to earth. Death upon death upon death - Thufarks mechanism had fired four, five times? The quickness of his own bow perhaps nine? - and then the column raised shields, splintering into factions as the fight below was engaged.
Somewhere above there was a . . a howl? A summons that rippled through the wildlands calling nature to their aid as below Rook heard the hammering of hooves. The Paladin leveling a lance and spearing forward. Thufark launching upward into flight, vanishing into a spearing dive at the flanking column, the sounds of crunching bones, protesting metal and pain. Rooks own hands shifted, conjurations spent as he pulled a rune-engraved arrow from his quiver. One of three. A murmured command sent it aloft, changing, snarling into the air as it fell in flaming strands, a burning net upon the melee below to the sound of a choked off, curdling scream.
And after that, it is an utter, whirling blur.
Another howl, ripping through the jungle - the gnome again, sowing fear and chaos while the grunts died to arrow and fist and blade and lance below. A sergeant's head crushed, shattering like an overripe melon beneath Thufarks first, Alexios impaling a sergeant and his corporal both upon a single stroke, Erica, whirling blades in Ver'ls honor, heads, limbs, falling with each stroke. It is chaos. It is bedlam. And, so help them, is almost easy. Vines erupt, curling from the ground, snaring more soldiers, clogging avenues of advance and retreat as they fall. But still they come, swarming, iron covered ants mounting the stones as the arrows fall.
The shadows snap into tangible darkness, rippling sinews of planar cold and claw and talon, devoid of depth or shape but for the outline of an absence, a tear in the order of created things in the shape and parody of men. Abominations that launched themselves forward and up and out, shrieking hate. Two spiral upwards, churning darkness as they chase and are chased by the gnome and the monk - the monk kicking, punching, dancing with his apparition in mid air as the gnome simply rises, up and up and up until the small figure astride the broom is but a dot against the cloud-dark sky. The third … the third turns it's claws to the ground, slashing, biting, freezing, dancing between the buildings and rooftops, peppered by bolts and arrows and utterly uncaring for the injury. A figure, Arykin, begins to trade blows with it, stalling the advance even as his flesh begins to freeze, frosting over at the shadow dripping touch of the abomination. Rook's own attention follows, arrow after arrow launched into the things back as Arykin stumbles, falters, the old goat's strength hammered beneath the blows.
Elsewhere the sounds of the battle churn, Alexios slaying men beneath trampling hooves as the Cirinite swears to his god, writing Her testimony in blood upon the ground. But for Arykin the fight holds, though, a steady bleeding of the company, each swing of the arm, each wheeling charge reducing their numbers. But for Arykin. And the whirling shadows above.
Another arrow flies, parting shadow and eliciting a reverberating howl. He can barely track the thing before him - it threatens to slide away from beneath his gaze, the otherness revolting his very eyes and turning his brain to gibbering denial. And above? He catches the story in glimpses, half-heartbeat moments between the drawing of an arrow to the slap of the bow. He remembers light, a dazzling burst as something rips asunder the clouds, piercing the sky and sending sunlit lances burning to the ground. They catch the shadows, chasing them, turning the edges to ash where the sunlight grabs hold. It is no natural break within the sky and it takes another moment to recognize the Broom Rider wheeling, guiding the light to its target as the shadows break, fleeing downwards with a brittle shriek like searing metal plunged into water. And then, from the edge of his attention, Thufark, a flying missile piling into one of the chthonian horrors, pinning it within his arms and pulling it into the sunlight … He does not see the death, but narrowly avoid another. His name, a single shout in Erika's voice followed by the near, all too near, clatter of steel on stone as a squad mounts the wall, drawing iron even as he turns, bow falling to his feet as Dharakeen's blade leaps into his hand, bursting into flame mid swing.
The old skills still hold with him, but there are many. He can fight but not stand and the slow, labored retreat pushes his heels against the droppoff to the jungle floor, four stories below. The rest of the fight is forgotten as he lashes out, buying time, buying heartbeat seconds before the long fall.
But then the rest of the fight finds him.
He feels it, first, the sudden chill. A sudden chill as color, light seems to bleed from his eyes, from his hands, a word turned to grey, a living shadow lit only by the defiant flame of Dharakeen's sword. And then he turns, following the fearful but stalwart gaze of his attackers, to stare into the maw of the abyss.
The rest is startlingly, vividly clear, snapshots of terror. Reaching out, grabbing the soldier's arm. A start of surprise as the expected attack does not come and instead Rook turns, swinging the man into the onrushing blackness. Buying time with blood. It's a strange sound, the man's vocal chords icing over mid scream. Shattering. The inhuman snarl as the man is ripped away from the things flesh, discarded like a doll. And then the blackness. Infinite, Impossibly cold blackness as the abyss reaches out, swallows him whole.
And then he's falling. Alexios below him, crowing, triumphant as the thing bursts about him - ash and flame and maggoty flesh. It is odd. The paladin had no bow, could not have possibly reached -
The mystery is forgotten as the onrushing round takes precedence. Fingers reached out, nails scraping against the rubbled stone - almost, but not quite. And then he's tumbling and … Then there was the monk.
Set gingerly upon the ground from the Monk's arms, Rook could only look up in confusion, muttering thanks as the 'dactyls descended.
Rook tossed the arrow to the ground with a shake of his head. He had been able to reconstruct the rest. Alexio's impossible throw, his lanced turned into a javelin spearing the create some forty feet up and disgorging Rook into mid air as it disintegrated into meat and shadow and chill. Gusten's continued scouring of the shadows with the guided sun through the broken clouds.
And the dactyl's, of course. Hungry. Leather-winged wolves of the air. Gusten had crowed about that. They had certainly made short work of the survivors - snatching them up and then letting them fall, screaming to an abrupt ad-hoc grave. It had been ghastly but effective. Arykin had laughed at that. Not sure what the hell else he had done but, well . .
Shaking his head Rook returned to his work, wincing slightly at the tenderness of his fingers while he worked the last broadhead free. Perhaps it had not been quite so painless after all.