The Battle

Posted on October 12, 2010

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This story is Part 25 of the Fire and Water series. It follows A Song for Sulinor, Part 2. To read from the beginning, please visit the Index page.

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A Nurain ship hit the ground near Peldanir, twisted into pieces by a Sylph. It burst into flames, sending shrapnel in all directions. He pulled Sulinor down to the earth beneath him as a burning shard sailed inches above their heads. He rolled off her and to his feet, and she billowed up into a towering green column of smoke, spitting sparks of rage. Another ship fell and exploded, and another.

Peldanir heard Vardon bellowing above the noise. He turned toward the sound of his old friend’s voice, straining to see through the smoke and fire of the ruined ships.

“Nurain warriors from the ships! Ride them down, Varzil!” Vardon roared.

“How did they survive those crashes?” Sulinor demanded, and Peldanir shook his head.

“Perhaps the ships were designed just for this,” he shouted. “We think we’ve destroyed them, but they get past the shield. Once on the ground, they can kill us one by one.” We didn’t expect that at all, he thought.

He heard Sulinor screech with fury as she headed toward the Varzil. The Varzil tribe, all on horseback, galloped toward the ship’s empty shell, before which ten Nurain stood facing them, waiting calmly.

Time seemed to slow as Peldanir gazed on his father’s people. They were tall, powerfully built, clad in colorless garments that fit their bodies close as skin. They were bald as Peldanir himself was, and their eyes were black, almost too large for their faces. They all had the contemptuous look his father Iru had, and Peldanir felt his blood turn to ice.

Their hands, slim and long-fingered, hung empty and tense at their sides. Peldanir saw blades glinting at their waists.

“Something isn’t right,” he shouted. Time engaged again, and he ran after Sulinor. “Wait! Wait! Don’t approach them, Vardon! It’s not what it seems!”

But he was too late. He heard the horses at the front of the Varzil scream as those blades slashed through their necks. Not right. He had not seen the Nurain’s hands move to wield the blades. The first horses went down, and then the Nurain moved. They took the riders and began to tear them apart with their hands.

The rest of the tribe turned their horses aside with a great effort. Sulinor screamed, and the earth buckled and opened beneath the Nurain warriors. They fell into the sudden chasm, grunting with surprise, and Sulinor closed the earth over them.

Peldanir stood gasping for breath, gazing in horror at the smoking earth where the Nurain had been. He tore his eyes away and looked up. More ships fell, cracking open or exploding when they hit. And from each ruined ship, he saw ten or twelve Nurain emerge unscathed, eager for blood.

“Jal!” he cried, and felt a brief wind buffet him. “You see what I just saw. Tell everyone. They’ve deceived us again.”

He felt the terrible knowledge breathe through everyone instantly as Jal sent it on the winds. Immediately Madan and the Sorcerers became columns of flame, searching out the Nurain warriors and immolating them. Peldanir heard the dragons roar above and saw them diving into the wreckage hither and yon, snatching the warriors up to destroy them one or two at a time. He saw Zaghran’s little sparks of light shoot out of his smoky form to pierce the warriors where they stood, and Varzil arrows flew. The Sylphs descended to earth to suffocate or crush the warriors wherever they found them.

One of the warriors had somehow escaped Sulinor’s chasm, and now he was running toward Peldanir. Peldanir crouched, ready to fight, and felt a dissonant hum fill his head: the warrior was trying to paralyze him. He felt a great whoosh of air. Aurmid dove and grabbed the warrior in her claws and snapped his neck. She dropped his body in a heap at Peldanir’s feet and flew off.

Suddenly a great blank silence fell. Peldanir looked up, trembling and breathing hard, and saw the ships hovering motionless against Sulinor’s black clouds.

“Sulinor! Zaghran!” he yelled. “They’re doing something else–”

White light seared the entire sky for a long moment, blinding every creature. Slowly the sound returned. Peldanir heard flames crackling, horses squealing with fright, people calling out and dragons trumpeting to each other in their blindness. Gradually his sight cleared, and he blinked, looking up at the sky.

The ships had vanished. The Nurain warriors on the ground had disappeared, too. Only the broken ships and a few dead Varzil and horses remained to show there had been a battle at all. Peldanir felt a new dread fill his bones as everyone began to make sure their friends were alive and whole.

“We’ve sent them running!” Vardon cried, and the Varzil began to murmur with relief.

Too easy, Peldanir thought. They could have destroyed every last one of us.

“Is everyone safe?” Zaghran said as he came to join Sulinor. “And where is Findol? Is he with you? I can’t seem to find him.”

“No, love, I thought he was with you,” Sulinor said. Her eyes darkened to evergreen. Madan came to them, his face anxious.

“Have you seen Findol?” Zaghran said. Madan shook his head, frowning.

“I came to ask if you’ve seen Varala Storyteller,” he said. “She’s not with the Sorcerers. I wanted to thank her for her help.”

Griel landed beside Zaghran.

“Coanh Thunder is missing,” he said. “He was with me before the light blinded us, but I have lost him.”

Peldanir closed his eyes against the fear growing in their eyes. He took a deep breath and looked at them.

“You haven’t lost him, Griel,” he said. “One of the Nurain warriors came at me before the light. He tried to paralyze me with that hum of theirs, but Aurmid stopped him. I thought he wanted to kill me, but now I see that wasn’t it. And I know why they all vanished so quickly.”

“Tell us, my son.” Sulinor’s voice was weary.

“I think the warrior wanted to take me to a ship. That’s why you can’t find Varala or Coanh or Findol. The Nurain have taken them.”

They stared at him, speechless. Sulinor glared up at the empty sky, and the earth shook with her anger.

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