Joseph rode quickly. Since he had left the front line he had been experiencing a foreboding sensation. Generals Fan and Nol were following closely behind him. A large group of troll soldiers were riding a respectful distance behind them.
“Calm down,” Zelma said. She was riding a workhorse behind him. “Garet won’t win the war by himself while we’re away.”
“Maybe he’s concerned about Garet’s safety,” Selene suggested.
Zelma laughed heartily. “There’s no way that Garet would be killed by the likes of the tree dwellers. He’s too stubborn.”
“Anyone can be killed,” Selene said. “I’ve fought against many who considered themselves above death. Their arrogance was always a fatal weakness.”
The three generals saw a group of troll soldiers walking down the road toward them. They looked over their shoulders frequently and moved nervously.
Joseph rode up to them. “What’s the meaning of this?” The soldiers froze and looked up at him. They didn’t respond to his question.
“Why are you walking away from the battlefront?” Joseph demanded.
One of the trolls walked forward slightly, wringing his hands together. “It wasn’t our fault,” he began “they were too much for us. We didn’t have a choice but to run. They would have killed us otherwise.”
“Who would have killed you?” Joseph asked.
“The elves,” The troll stammered. “They outnumbered our regiment. We fought as well as we could, but the General fell and we had no choice. We had to flee for our lives.”
“Garet is dead?” Joseph was incredulous. “How did he die?”
The troll shook his head. “I didn’t see much of his battle. I was too busy fighting for my life. All I know is that he was clashing with an elf one moment, the next his head was rolling on the ground. We knew then that we had to run. We stood no chance, not without the General.”
Joseph clenched his fist. “Very well,” he said, softly. “Reform as many units as you can. Have everyone who’s surplus join existing units. Except for one person who will send a message to Larick that I wish to see him immediately.” He noticed the fear on their faces. “Be at ease,” he reassured them. “We’ve each brought a fresh regiment. This time it will be the elves who have no choice but to flee before our martial might.” He raised his voice so that the soldier following could hear him. “We will avenge the loss of General Brun and win this war for the glory of the empire!” The soldiers behind and in front of him raised their arms and cheered.
I felt cold. My head was throbbing like crazy and my back hurt. I got up carefully. I was sore all over, but I could move. I could feel a warm trickle moving down my face. I examined the spot carefully. There was a large bump and a gash running along my forehead. I tore off a scrap of my tunic and wrapped it around my head to stop the bleeding. I would have to clean it later. Michael was sprawled across the ground a dozen or so centimetres away from me. He had a sword in his left hand. I could see his face twitching and hear his breathing. He was still alive and well enough.
I crouched down beside him and did a quick examination. He had cuts and burns all over. There were probably even more beneath his armour. I put an ear against his chest. His heart sounded fine. Actually, it sounded like he had two of them. I made an effort to recall the stories of draconians and whether or not they were supposed to have an extra heart but I was drawing a blank. I tried to move him into a more comfortable position before looking around the chamber.
The hole that we had fallen from was pretty high up. It was pretty large too. How had no one noticed and filled it in? There were footprints in the dirt near where Michael had fallen. I followed them to a mostly solid rock wall. It did have a pretty sizeable crack in it. I knew that I could fit through it, but Michael would have trouble getting his wings in. The sides of the crack had blood flecked around them. Someone had gone through there, and pretty recently from the looks of things. Michael, perhaps?
I moved back beneath the hole and looked up. I figured that it would be possible to use magic to get up there, but how stable were the edges? I looked back at Michael. He probably wouldn’t last too long. His injuries had been pretty severe and the fall had just worsened his condition. I hoisted him up and carried him beneath the hole. Somehow, he kept a firm grip on the sword. Like it was somehow melded to his skin. I put my hands together and touched the soil. I sent as much energy as I could manage into the ground. The area I was standing on began to rumble immediately. A circular area of ground rose toward the sky and stopped just short of the hole. When I stood I could see the forest around me. I left Michael on the slab and tested the earth around the hole. It showed no signs of giving way beneath my weight. Satisfied, I decided to retrieve Michael and carry him into the forest.
Sadow stopped a travelling carriage. He was carrying Laina’s head beneath his robes with one skeletal arm wrapped firmly around it. An elderly vampire opened the window and looked out at him.
“Pardon my intrusion,” Sadow said. “My carriage was attacked and destroyed by a magic using thug. If you would be so kind as to take me the rest of the way to my Keep I would be glad to repay you.”
The vampire grinned. “Of course, Magi. It would please me greatly to provide assistance to one such as you.” He opened the door and moved to the side.
“I thank you for your kindness,” Sadow said. He moved beside the gentleman and closed the door behind him.
“I am Duke Hetan Perom,” the vampire said. “I am surprised that the Magi known for his great compassion and strong sense of justice would come under attack. It seems that even a foolhardy scoundrel would be hesitant to attack one as powerful as a Magi.”
“The rogue probably thought me a helpless traveller,” Sadow said.
Hetan nodded. “A grave error indeed. I trust that you turned the villain in to the authorities?”
“Unfortunately, she escaped with the aid of an accomplice,” Sadow said. “I attempted to chase them down but they took refuge in the forest beside the road. I could not find their hideout. Rest assured that I have every intention of catching them before they cause more harm.”
“I would not have thought that you would be capable of failure,” Hetan said. “I suppose that even the great Magi are not invincible.”
Sadow smiled. “Perhaps not. All we can do is work to the best of our ability to make the world a better place, one step at a time.”
Sadow felt a surge of relief. He was on his way home in comfort. Now, he just had to plan the best way of dealing with his problem. The blind girl… she had known. She must also be an accomplice. He would have to deal with her more quickly than he’d anticipated.