Act I, Verse III:
Having created the sun, moon and stars, the All-Mother, exhausted, wished for rest. So, on the seventh day, she slumbered, splitting herself across the lands. In her sleep, she dreamt of creatures to share the world she had created, children to keep her company. When she awoke, she was greeted by her first children, born of her fragments combined with earth and fire. The Elementals.
Act I, Verse VII:
The All-Mother felt lonesome. Her first children had alleviated her solitude slightly, yet, they possessed very little in terms of sentience, living solely guided by their instincts. Thus, the All-Mother set about her most ambitious project yet. Shearing parts of herself, she birthed the primordial twins: Aus and Aum.
Act I, Verse VIII:
Aus possessed the endless potential to evolve and her ability to create life; Aum, her infinite wisdom. Aus split herself further, scattering across the world. Whatever her fragments consumed, they took the aspect of, evolving into the myriad Beasts that roamed the lands.
– Scriptures of the Deus Theocracy.
A droplet of sweat ran down Phobos’ forehead, down her nose and dripped down from the tip, splashing onto the enchanted stone beneath her feet. Another dripped from her furrowed brow right into her left eye. She blinked, losing control of the spell she had been concentrating on. With a grunt of pain, she staggered back from the backlash, as did several of the others who had been participating in the combined matrix with her.
“A-cha. That hurts!” exclaimed one of her fellow Tier 2 shadow mages as she clutched her head with both hands. She was a petite girl with black hair cropped short and a cute, chubby face which was currently puffed up in a pout. Phobos couldn’t quite place her bloodline from her bestial characteristics. Some sort of beaver perhaps?
“I’m sorry,” Phobos apologised, trying her best to power past her own throbbing headache. Suddenly, a large shadow covered the girl from behind and a hand dropped heavily on her shoulder, causing her to stagger.
“Look who’s talkin’… Anya, correct me if I’m wrong but I remember ye givin’ me more headaches in an hour than she’s given me in a day on yer first try with the formations.”
“A-ch-cha-cha. Marshal, stop! It hurts. My shoulder will break! It’ll shatter I tell you. Okay. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, okay. She looked so uptight and serious. I wanted to tease her. Ahh!” With a final squeeze of her shoulder, that generated ominous creaking sounds, Marshal Zoya Canis let go of the girl who nursed her shoulder with a teary pout and speedily ran off.
“Come with me. Ye need to rest. Push yerself any more and ye’ll just end up making more mistakes and do more harm than good. And I don’t wanna explain a cracked mindscape to those two.” She said, jerking her thumb upwards.
Phobos looked up at Father and Mother as they kept the aerial corps of the Calamity at bay all by themselves, dead and dying ants often sprinkling down upon the army below like rain. If she was the Marshal, she wouldn’t want to bring two individuals of such power bad news either.
Nodding, she followed behind the dark haired, floppy eared, muscular dog-woman as they made their way down the stairs to the base of the wall where the soldiers rested in their shifts off. Settling down on an empty bench, Zoya patted the empty space beside her and Phobos took her seat.
“Oi. Get us some chow will ya?” she shouted to the pot-bellied water mage who was busy cooking something in a large pot over a fire-stone stove.
The rotund cook shot her a glance and yelled back. “What’cha want, Canis? We got crispy fried fire ants, ant hotpot and ant casserole. And I don’t mind whipping up a stew for the lady by yer side, special like. After all, her husband’s been getting me most of my materials.”
“Hah! Eat yer enemies, is it? Makes us sound like the Northern Savages. I like it. Get us the stew then and I want the fries. Make it quick, Rody. I gotta get back fast or my squad’ll mess stuff up topside.”
Rody chuckled and gave his cauldron several more stirs before setting it aside. He then put a smaller cauldron onto the stove and set about preparing the stew.
While he was doing that, Major Canis leaned back into the seat, her joints popping as she stretched. “Well… I’ve never been one for apologies,” she turned to Phobos and bowed to her, “But… sorry fer dissing yer husband. Showed me right up didn’t he.” She sighed. “Ye three must’ve been laughing at me behind my back… letting me mouth off without telling me what an anomaly he was. Tamer my ass… ain’t seen a Tamer who can amplify a whole squad worth of spells in one go. That Lieutenant badge… he earned it. More than me, anyway.” She seemed to deflate after her spiel, closing her eyes and leaning her head back against the wall behind her.
Phobos smiled and shook her head. “Don’t apologise to me. I’m just as surprised as you. Husband kept his cards close. I thought that he would be worth a Tier 3 mage at most with his unusual casting. I never imagined…”
Her smile faded as she looked out of a window at the wall, lit as brightly as day by the multitude of smokeless torches that were arranged at regular distances on it. Soldiers bustled about, coming and going as they swapped shifts to alternate rest and battle. The army was a smoothly oiled machine that was aimed at efficiently dispatching the enemy.
Every mage was a cog in the machine, helping it turn. Shadow mages like her were tasked with collaborating in groups of six to cast Shadow Walk on the ants at Tier 2 and above, forcefully teleporting them to special arenas where an earth mage and a wind mage at Tier 2, or a Paladin waited to dispatch them. This way, the commanders of the legion could be picked off without having to wade through the sea of their subordinates.
The healing department remained on standby to treat the fighter’s wounds.
The water mages were responsible for defence, their elemental advantage meaning that the collaborative water-curtain spell they could deploy greatly weakened the attacks of the fire ants capable of magic.
Constant streams of fireballs shot at the wall from the ant legion, seeking to shatter it with sheer firepower; only to fizzle out as they came in contact with the water-curtain. Some, like the ones shot by Tier 3 ants, punched through the curtain only to pound ineffectually on the enchanted earth-stone walls of the city while the curtain recovered rapidly with the input of the mages’ mana.
Part of the water mages focused on their alchemy, using the corpses of the fire ants and the inherent mana within them to dispose potions beneficial for the soldiers. In fact, the cook, Rody, was a Captain, subordinate to the alchemical department. His task, cooking up tasteful meals with his alchemy that would both boost morale and accelerate mana regeneration.
The fire mages composed several artillery squads that rotated, taking turns to bombard the legion, clearing large swathes of low-level ants with every salvo. Specially with Husband assisting them.
Phobos clenched her fist. Even though she had tried hard to train every waking moment, she was still the weakest one among them. While she was stuck collaborating with the shadow mages, making mistakes more often than not, Deimos had risen to prominence for swiftly dispatching several Tier 2 ants in the arena without the need of an earth mage’s assistance.
Even Ceres, despite her injuries, had made herself useful with her immense talent in mathematics and analysis, taking over the running of the logistics of the alchemical department, freeing a Tier 2 water mage to join the battle.
She couldn’t help but feel depressed. It seemed like everyone was walking ahead and that soon, she would lose sight of their backs.
And there was a nagging feeling at the back of her mind… a premonition that she would need the strength soon. They all would.
Daily updates resume from tomorrow. Rejoice! Also, Volume 1 PDF is up on my Patreon.