Tragic Genius

by Cynus

Chapter 13

Above the tumultuous sea, the sky swarmed with demons. The cloud was as thick as mosquitoes over a bog, though these pests were far more dangerous than any mere insect, and even more bloodthirsty as well. Guns blared and demons fell, but even more replaced them.

Prism wondered at the effectiveness of firearms some had leveled against the coming onslaught. It seemed many of the shots failed to strike home, and he'd heard often enough that the ammunition used by the Ultaka heat rifles was in short supply. Nearly all the facilities used to produce the ammunition had been seized or destroyed during the revolution. When the subsequent wave of natural disasters hit, many of those remaining facilities were destroyed. Then demons had begun their march across the land, and they had destroyed every shred of civilization in their path.

Traditional methods of fighting would not last, not at the rate they were being wasted now. But there was no one in command to control the use of those weapons or ensure the fighters were properly supplied. In the chaos that was Lobrak today, everybody fought for themselves only, which turned the battlefield into a cacophony of death.

"Prism!" Grim shouted, and Prism turned his way just as a hulking creature rounded the corner in front of them. It stood taller than Prism by two heads at least, it was far broader in the shoulders and hips. Bone plating covered every inch of it, all ending in wicked spines. A woman with a rifle behind a barricade of rubble took a shot at it, but the bullet merely ricocheted off one of the bony plates.

The demon stepped forward, closing the distance between it and the woman in seconds. One bone-clawed hand punctured the woman's chest, and the woman shrieked in agony as she dropped her rifle. If the wound itself hadn't been enough to kill her, what happened next certainly did the trick. The demon's arm turned red as small rivulets of blood were suctioned into small channels in its bony plates. The woman's body paled in seconds as she suffered complete exsanguination, and the demon casually discarded her dried husk of a corpse as if it had never been of any importance at all. There was no one between the demon and Prism and his friends now, and, without any further warning, the demon rushed toward them.

Prism moved to meet it, fighting the urge to turn and run with every step, but, knowing Grim would not, he had to do his best here. He assumed the stance that would give him the ability to spring into the air at an instant's notice and waited for the demon's charge to reach him. Kaeral was standing next to him a second later, sword out and ready, its edge already gleaming with blood. He'd already killed a demon that day; a human-sized salamander looking thing with fiery skin. It had burned Kaeral's left sleeve and most of his skin off in the process, though Grim had managed to heal the latter.

"I'll go for its face, you cut its legs out from under it," Prism said. He didn't wait for Kaeral's response, knowing his friend's keen ears would hear him, and he would do as instructed. The demon was upon them the next instant, but Prism had already leaped to meet it, the sole of his boot colliding with the demon's face and driving it backward.

Kaeral approach from the outside, circling to the demon's left, sword leading. He hacked at the demon's leg, the keen edge slicing clean through the bone where the bullets had failed earlier. Kaeral's sword had been forged by a god, or so it was believed, and was keener than any edge Prism had ever seen.

But he didn't waste any time as the demon collapsed backward, spraying dark blood everywhere from its open wound. Instead, as soon as Prism hit the ground, he picked up a large piece of rubble and leapt forward again. The stone raised high in his hands, he transferred the momentum of his jump into a forceful slam down at the demon's face, crushing it with the stone.

The bone plate covering its face shattered, and the demon twitched for just a moment before it lay still. For good measure, Kaeral hacked it in a few places, making sure that if it was still alive, it could do little to harm them without limbs.

"That's two," Kaeral said with a huff, "only several thousand more to go. What the hell are they doing here? No one here has even tried to fight them before today."

"Well they certainly will try to fight them now," Prism said. "And we have more of them to fight as well. We shouldn't dally here; there's work to be done."

He looked around for Grim and found him at the woman's side, checking her vitals. The Fedain had a serious look on his face, his eyes dark. Prism approached, but Grim sensed him through the bond before Prism could reach him. "I'm all right, Prism," Grim said, rising to his feet. "I just wish there was something I could do about it."

"There is," Prism said. "When this is done, I'm sure there will be plenty of wounded who—"

A crackle of electricity split the air, and Kaeral screamed in pain from behind them. Prism and Grim turned toward the sound, both seeing the large quill sticking out of Kaeral shoulder as he staggered backward. Triumphant screeching sounded above them, and a purple-scaled, winged beast flew over them.

It was the first time that Prism had seen one of these demons up close, as they had concentrated most of their effort on the organized resistance against them. The barrages of quills they spewed from their backs were devastating against groups, and the thickness of their scales made it more difficult for the rifles to bring them down.

Of course, Prism didn't even have a rifle, and he had little chance of bringing down the demon with his bare hands. Instead, he focused on protecting Kaeral, picking up a long wooden plank from the nearby pile of rubble and stepping in front of his friend while Grim moved to attend to the wound.

The demon came for another pass, and this time it launched a heavy barrage of quills at the trio. Prism parried as many of the quills as he could with the plank, but two whizzed past him, making the air sizzle with electric current. A third grazed his cheek, and small filaments along the shaft sparked as they passed, jolting Prism enough to send him staggering to the side.

The nanites coursing through his system were enough to get him functioning quickly, and he braced himself for another pass. He hoped Grim would soon give him the signal that he had managed to get Kaeral out of the way, because time was quickly running out. Prism doubted he could protect them from every barrage, especially if the quills scored a more solid hit on him.

As the demon came around again, Prism prepared for the worst, setting himself in the lightest stance he knew. Being light on his feet would be his best bet for blocking the quills and keeping his friends protected. Before the barrage came, however, a huge arrow pierced the air and collided with the side of the demon's head. It punctured into its brain, and the demon barely had a chance to screech before it lost control of its wings and collided with a stone building behind Prism.

Prism turned toward his unexpected benefactor, an Elrok standing on the roof of a single-story building across the way. The Elrok had an arrow nocked and ready to fire, but only a few shafts remained in his quiver. He wore very simple garb around his waist, but his torso and lower legs were bare and showed a variety of tattoos, though from this distance, Prism could not make out any of the designs.

Movement in the alleyway beneath the Elrok caught Prism's attention. "Watch out!" He shouted as a gigantic, yellow cat—sprouting quills as sharp as the winged demon's— bounded into view, heading straight for the Elrok archer.

The Elrok turned, drawing a heavy knife from his belt as the cat pounced. Prism was already moving in that direction, intending to help the Elrok, but to his surprise Grim was already closing the distance. Grim climbed up a drainpipe to the roof and headed straight for the cat, open hand leading. As soon as he touched it, the cat screamed in pain and turned its focus on Grim instead of the Elrok.

Prism was up on the roof a second later, taking the same path as Grim, but he had no need to rescue his lover. The cat's body was already seizing, its systems quickly draining of all their energy. By the time Prism reached Grim's side, the cat was already dead.

The emotions Prism sensed through the bond confused him. Grim's typical level of regret for having killed a living thing was not present in the slightest, and instead his emotions read as nothing but focus and determination. Grim had killed without remorse or satisfaction, and he was ready to kill again.

Prism pushed the cat's body off Grim and helped him to his feet. Before Prism could inquire after Grim's health, the Elrok approached them and greeted Prism with a nod. "Thank you for your warning cry, Human. I would've been dead without it," he said, extending his hand to Prism.

Prism clasped his arm, surprised at how small he felt in the Elrok's giant grasp. "Thank you for your assistance with the flying beast, noble Elrok."

The Elrok grunted in acknowledgment. "And thank you . . ." The Elrok began, turning toward Grim. His eyes widened in surprise. "Fedain . . . your assistance was, unexpected."

"He's not a typical Fedain," came a grunting reply from below them. Kaeral, still clutching at the quill embedded in his shoulder, indicated Grim and Prism with a nod. "Sub-Fletcher Morga, these are my two best friends in the world, Prism and Grim."

"I see. Well met. Kaeral Elrhanadan has told me much about you," the Elrok said, bowing to Grim then Prism in turn. He then regarded Grim with a wary eye and added, "Though he certainly left some things out."

"He left some things out when he talked about you, too," Prism said, eyeing the bow in Morga's hands.

"We can sort that out later. For now, I think we should get back to fighting the demons, don't you think?" Grim said lightly before hopping off the roof and joining Kaeral. He expertly snapped the quill and pushed the broken part through the other side, then healed the wound. Kaeral bore it all through gritted teeth.

Before Prism and Morga could even reach the street, Grim was moving ahead of them, down to where more demons fought. The same emotions persisted through the bond; determination and focus, and a desire to make a difference. His clothing was now tattered by the cat demon's claws, but he didn't bear a mark on his skin at all. Prism only hoped that the conflict would not leave a lasting mark on Grim's soul.

The battle raged for hours. Kaeral and Morga led the way, first to where the rest of Morga's clan battled, and then to where Kaeral's uncle in law, Tala, had gathered a small group of Human and Gor around him. Together, this much larger group became a target of more and more demons, and despite Grim's best efforts, the soldiers kept dropping.

He had yet to lose any to death, but with his limited resources, Grim wasn't able to keep them all from exhaustion. Prism could see the weariness behind Grim's eyes and could feel it through the bond. No matter how much determination Grim had, he would soon reach a point where his own energy reserves gave out.

He had yet to kill another demon, for which Prism was quite glad. The last fate he would ever want for his lover was to see him become a killer. Grim was not made for violence, though he was certainly shining here as he bolstered the others. If only it would be enough.

"There's too many of them," Kaeral breathed heavily, having just finished off what Tala's men were calling a 'Breathstealer', the horned bipedal beasts with crocodilian maws and large claws extending the back of their hands. Thankfully, most of these demons were about the same size as a man and at least no bigger than an Elrok. It was said that on the front lines to the south, there were some as large as houses.

"I don't have any strength left," Prism agreed. Despite the nanites coursing through his body, he was beginning to feel the effects of all the work they were going through just to keep him running. They were overtaxed by the number of injuries he had suffered during the battle.

It was time to retreat, though demons still raged in the sky and on the streets around them. There were no longer the thousands they had seen before, but there were no longer thousands of able-bodied fighters to face them either. If the small, weary force did not find shelter soon, they would surely fall as well.

But before Prism could say anything to that effect, Grim looked up from where he was bent over an Elrok with a broken leg and said, "I do." Without any further warning, he rushed to meet the next demon coming toward them.

"Grim?" Prism asked, then upon seeing Grim's path added more urgently, "Grim!"

But Grim did not show an ounce of fear, and his determination had come back in full force. The demon rushing to meet him was another of the Breathstealers, who eagerly snapped his arm forward to impale Grim on the end of his claws.

Grim ducked down and slid underneath the claws, rising back to his feet inside the demon's range. He placed his hand against the demon's leg and then stopped. For several heartbeats, to Prism the world seemed to stand still.

And then the demon began to howl, trying to tear itself away from Grim and simultaneously kill him, but Grim managed to dodge out of the way again and again, dancing this way and that, always maintaining contact with the demon's flesh.

Through the bond came something more than simply determination; a renewed vigor, and a sense of enlightenment. And it wasn't just feeding into Grim, but into Prism as well. A transference of energy, from the demon into Grim, and then renewing all of Prism systems.

"He's . . ." Prism shook his head in disbelief, "he's feeding me through the bond. Can you cover us from this range, Morga?"

"I'll do my best," Morga said, hefting his bow and indicating to his Elrok troops that they should keep their ranged weapons handy as well.

"Tala and I will keep the wounded safe and start getting everyone out," Kaeral said, nodding toward his uncle.

Prism nodded in appreciation and dashed out to join Grim as the Breathstealer fell. Grim was already moving forward, meeting another demon, this one a bone-plated one. Before Prism could move to back them up, another cat and its winged companion approached as well. Several arrows met the demon in the sky as Prism entered a wrestling match with the dangerous cat.

He barely managed to make it out alive, and only because Grim continued to feed him with strength and the Elrok arrows continued to find their home in the cat's flesh. Though Prism delivered the final blow with a neck-breaking kick, he was glad that he had others to back him up. Being able to kill was one thing, but being able to survive was quite another.

They continued on like this for so long that Prism lost track of time, though the sun was beginning to set when he and Grim finally found a momentary reprieve. It confused Prism at first to find no enemies nearby, but then Grim pointed past him and said, "Prism, look!"

Prism followed Grim's gesture and saw a massive army rolling in from the city. It was an organized force made up mainly of humans, though a few Elrok and Gor regiments moved along with it. As Prism watched, he also noticed Fedain moving through each of the units, at least one for each group, healing those who fell to the demons' attacks.

"Who are they?" Prism asked.

"I don't know, but they seem to be here to help," Grim replied.

And indeed the army was far more effective than the ragtag bands occupying the ruins had been. As they marched forward, the demons were driven back swiftly and efficiently, losing out to superior tactics. Bows and crossbows let loose volleys from the ranks even more often than heat rifles were used. Swords, spears, and maces occupied more hands than their modern equivalents, and it seemed those who held them knew how to use them as well.

But Prism didn't want to spend too much time focused on the peculiar nature of their new allies when there was still killing to be done. He clapped Grim on the shoulder and pointed to a couple of demons approaching their position. "Let's give them all we got," he said, "We might be able to win this day after all."

So they fought until the sun set, and for a short time after. Until the last demon fell, not one of them retreating. The shores were littered with corpses, and more still bobbed in the ocean waves, slowly being carried away by the tide.

Prism waited until he had surveyed the nearby area for any potential threats before turning to Grim again. "How are you feeling?" He asked, though he already knew the answer. Grim was in perfect health, as good as he had ever been, and his body was practically singing with energy.

"I'm fine. Better than fine," Grim replied with a touch of awe.

"What did you do? With that first cat you just killed it, but this . . ." Prism paused, shaking his head wordlessly for a moment as he glanced about at the corpses surrounding them, "this was different."

"Yes . . ." Grim replied, nodding as much to himself as to Prism. He met Prism's eyes, his own a bit hazy and confused as he went on, "Fedain they . . . they heal by giving up their own life force, right?"


Grim shrugged and looked at his hands as if seeing them for the first time. "I thought I'd try to steal it instead. Not just command the cells to burst like I have in the past, but . . . actually transferring life force from them to me."

"And it worked?" Prism asked, his breath catching in his throat. An image flashed back into his mind. A man's head exploding before him from a simple touch of Grim's hand. Prism knew how that had affected Grim before, and a cold dread slowly seeped into Prism's thoughts.

"Prism . . . I can sense your fear. It's unfounded," Grim said, smiling though his emotions betrayed his own concern. "I have no desire to use this against anything other than a demon, and won't deviate from that unless . . . well, unless nothing."

"I'm just worried about, you know . . . you," Prism said gently.

"Because I'm killing?"


Grim looked down at one of the demons and shook his head. "But they're not alive. Not in the same sense that other things are . . . I thought about it, when Khalis was touching me . . . he didn't feel like a living thing. He was made of life force, but it wasn't the same. It was like he was . . . alien."

"So, it's okay to kill demons?" Prism asked skeptically.

"If it saves lives, I think so, yes," Grim replied.

Prism chuckled. "I'd never thought I'd see you get around to rationalizing that."

Grim snorted and said, "I never thought I'd hear you complain that I am."

As Prism opened his mouth to reply, the sound of hooves drew his attention to two riders in full military-grade combat armor coming toward them. One had a long spear resting against the saddle, and the other had a sword sheathed to the side. "We'll talk about this later," Prism said. "Looks like we have someone who'd like to talk to us."

"Well, maybe we could—" Grim started to say, then scrunched his face in confusion as the one rider drew his sword, and the other lowered her spear. "What is he doing?"

"Down!" The sword wielder shouted at them, pointing forward with his sword to something behind them.

Prism and Grim both turned at once. A fiery salamander demon wielding a slab of red-hot metal came charging toward them from behind a nearby building. Grim didn't hesitate, rushing to meet it head on. He dodged past the salamander's strike and placed his hand against its wrist just below the grip on the sword.

This was the first time he had faced this kind of demon. As the tips of his fingers collided with the hot metal beneath the demon's grip, Grim recoiled in pain and fell backward. "Ahhhh!" He screamed, rolling away as the demon brought the sword down to strike at where he'd been.

"Grim!" Prism shouted, starting to rush forward but pulling short as hooves thundered past him.

The female rider urged her horse to tremendous speed, spear lowered as she rushed the demon. Before the demon could even turn to swing at her, the rider expertly lodged her spear in the center of its chest. The demon toppled over backward, staggering under the force of the blow and taking the spear with it. Grim scampered out of the way, narrowly avoiding the demon's sword as it clattered to the ground.

Grim rejoined Prism as the rider circled back toward them. Prism acknowledged the rider with a nod before taking Grim in his arms. "Thank you. You saved us."

The rider didn't bother to open the face plate of her helmet, nor did she respond. She simply stared at Prism for a moment, her horse dancing beneath her, before she turned and rode back toward the demon she'd just killed.

Prism frowned and shook his head, then turned his attention to Grim. Grim was looking at his hands, which were already healing from the burns. "I should've known better than to touch something on fire like that," he said with a slight smile. "Maybe if I'd thought about how it would burn me, I would've been fine."

The swordsman closed the rest of the distance between them and sheathed his sword before dismounting. "Hello!" he said, raising a hand in greeting to Prism and Grim before calling after the rider. "Yatha, please rein in here!"

"Yatha?" Grim asked, turning to look at the woman behind them. She had both hands on the spear and was wresting it from the demon's body. With a flick, she sent the ichor coating it flying from the blade and shaft before turning her horse around and riding back.

"My name is Wayar Fashalmanis," the swordsman said, then indicated the spearman, "and this is my second in command, Yatha Igbir."

"So," Grim replied, "a Lodani and an Incarian, leading an army all the way in northeastern Ultaka."

If Wayar noticed the suspicion in Grim's tone, he didn't show it. Instead, he took off his helmet and held it under his arm, revealing a face with a full, greying moustache and thinning hair. "You have a good command of name origins, Fedain. You must be well studied," he said with a disarming smile.

"I know a thing or two about names, yes," Grim said. "My name is Grim, and this is Prism."

"Grim . . ." Wayar tasted the name on his tongue before regarding Grim with a renewed familiarity. "You have a bearing similar to another Fedain I've had the pleasure to meet. Are you of any relation to the Lady Veil?"

"No relation," Grim said quickly.

But the words were already leaving Prism's mouth. "She is his sister," he said, then mouthed a quick apology to Grim.

"I see . . ." Wayar said, nodding as his smile faltered. "A bit of family drama then?"

Grim glared openly at Prism, who shrugged and smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry . . . I didn't think you'd answer that way."

"She is my sister, Kin Fashalmanis," Grim admitted with a sigh, adding the Lodani honorific 'Kin'. "Though she does not acknowledge me as such."

"You need not honor me so, Grim, as we are far from Lodan. Simply call me Wayar," Wayar said with a chuckle. "I hope you'll forgive me if I do not shake your hand. I've seen what you've been touching, and I'm not eager to share in whatever the demons may have left on them."

"Quite understandable," Grim conceded with a smile, glad that Wayar was not pressing the matter of his kinship with Veil.

"You're up from the south then?" Prism asked.

Yatha finally circled around to join Wayar, though she did not dismount. Wayar gave her a critical look before answering. "Yes. We knew a section of the demon army had moved north, and we came to ensure it did not outflank us. When it became obvious they had another target in mind, we rode hard to ensure that we could help fight wherever the army landed."

"Riding . . ." Grim said, looking at the horse skeptically, "horses haven't been used in war for nearly a century."

"Yes . . . but since fuel is in short supply and production is practically non-existent, we've trained a modest cavalry," Wayar replied. "Yatha is our cavalry general down in the south, which is why the Lady Veil assigned her to this mission. Who better to lead us in a hard march?"

"We appreciate your assistance," Prism said, nodding to Wayar first and then smiling politely at Yatha. The mounted woman gave no indication that she cared about his expression at all.

"My associates will rendezvous with us soon. I am not in command of this mission, though the troops are mine," Wayar said. As if in answer to his words, more hoofbeats sounded behind him. He stepped to the side to allow the other rider to rein in. With a wide smile he added, "Here comes our representative now."

The old man wore monk robes that had been divided for riding horseback, and he took to it with surprising grace. Prism was surprised to see such a familiar face, however, and couldn't contain his surprise as he asked, "Grandmaster Jovun?"

"Prism and Lord Grimfaeth . . ." Jovun said warmly, his eyes filled with relief and delight. "It is good to see you both well and alive. And Kaeral Elrhanadan as well! I just had the fortune of speaking to him before riding over here. What good omens!"

"I heard that the Temple of the Mountain was working with Veil, but I had no idea you'd begun leading missions," Grim said, bowing in greeting to the monk.

"Only those which may have humanitarian needs," Jovun replied with a nod. "We didn't know what the demons traveling north meant, but we assumed we would need to organize a charity effort when we arrived. It seems this city could use some of that even before the demons arrived."

"What troubles me is that the demons are no longer content to simply fight us in the south. I don't think there will be anywhere safe in this world before too long," Wayar said.

"Yes . . . that's why we must find out where they're coming from and stop it," Yatha said gruffly. It was the first time she'd spoken, and her voice was light and melodic despite the rough edge she applied to it. Prism suppressed the urge to stare at her.

"If they're coming from the south, doesn't that mean they're coming from the Dobraeg?" Grim asked.

Wayar sighed and said, "The Gor there have told us nothing, though they do occasionally send aid to our lines. It's a tenuous alliance; they still don't care much for humans, after all."

"Prism, I brought some new recruits, but training them is difficult. I would welcome your assistance, and that of Kaeral Elrhanadan if you've a mind to help me put them through their basics," Jovun said, bowing humbly to Prism.

"Are you the only master present, Grandmaster Jovun?" Prism asked.

"I'm afraid so," Jovun replied. "We're stretched rather thin across all the battlefields at present. Some new recruits up here would help us hold the lines against whatever the demons throw against us in the north, especially if we can train them to train others."

Prism glanced briefly at Grim before saying, "What would you ask of me? You know I can't swear the oaths again."

"How about just the first three?" Jovun asked with a wry chuckle. "Consider it a field commission."

"That doesn't sound like something the strict Grandmaster Jovun would authorize," Prism said, eyes wide.

"Of course not," Jovun replied. "But I'm no longer the keeper of any law that makes sense. I'm a man trying to help us survive a war against a supernatural threat the likes of which we've never seen. For that, I am prepared to make changes to policy if it keeps us all alive."

"I will swear the first three oaths to you, but only after I've had a chance to discuss it with Grim," Prism replied.

"Of course," Jovun confirmed, then nodded appreciatively at Grim. "I wouldn't want to put any strain on either of you if you don't think you'll be up to the task."

Prism nodded appreciatively, but before he could answer, Wayar glanced around and said, "This city, or what's left of it, is even more ruined than I'd have thought possible."

"It looked much like this before the attack, actually," Grim replied with a snort.

Wayar smiled at that and changed the subject. "There is a settlement forming at Cherrim Pass, born of Elrok and Human settlers, with a small Fedain community as well. We believe that another wave of demons may be coming up after this one, if our rear scouts are worth their mettle. We'd like to recruit as many able-bodied folks as we can and take them with us to bolster their defenses."

"Why there?" Grim asked.

"South-eastern Ultaka is lost," Jovun explained grimly.

Prism and Grim shared an incredulous look. "All of it?"

"Every last inch," Wayar confirmed. "The demons wiped out everything in their path. All the civilized areas, anyway. There might be a pocket or two of resistance out there, but . . ." he trailed off with a helpless shrug.

"It'll take us a month to get there on foot," Prism said.

"Likely," Wayar replied. "That's why the sooner we leave, the better. We're in a lot better position to make it than the armies in the south, even though they're closer they can't spare the troops."

"Well, you wanted to make a difference. What do you say?" Prism asked, glancing at Grim again.

"I say we should go where the fighting is thickest," Grim replied.

"You've both grown in this last year," Jovun said, smiling broadly. "Grandmaster Valkean would've been proud."

"And how is Master Vinh?" Prism asked.

"He goes to the front lines in the south every day. They say his skill with the Aika quills are legendary, as he throws them right back after they land."

"Aika?" Prism asked, the name triggering a memory somewhere for him.

"The Gor have shared with us some of their names for the demons," Jovun replied. "Aika, like that one . . ." he pointed to one of the purple-scaled winged beasts, then to one of the large yellow cats, "and the cat. My Gor isn't particularly great, so I assume it has something to do with the quills, and that's why they share the name."

"It could be a dialectal variation . . ." Grim said quietly.

"Oh?" Jovun asked.

Grim shook his head, shrugging. "Never mind. I never learned any of the Southern Gor tongues. The name means nothing to me, really, though I thought I knew the Gor word for 'quills'."

"The name sounds familiar to me, though I can't place it. Perhaps we could ask Kaeral later?" Prism asked.

Grim nodded and turned his attention to Jovun. "Either way, I think we will join you, Grandmaster. We might be able to scrounge up a few more troops as well."

"Splendid!" Wayar said, then turned to Jovun with chagrin. "I apologize, Grandmaster. I didn't mean to speak out of turn."

"It would be better if you didn't speak at all." Yatha said, then started to turn her horse.

"Oh Yatha, you're far too sulky all the time. Lighten up! We have won this day," Wayar replied.

"But we're losing the war. Maybe not today, but unless something changes . . ." Yatha shook her head, then went on, "this will end with all our deaths."

"Perhaps, but I think it's best to have faith, my friend," Wayar said.

Yatha grunted and kicked her horse into movement, leaving the others behind as she rode back to her troops. Wayar watched her go and sighed, then returned to look at the others, smiling apologetically.

"I quite agree with your sentiment, Wayar," Prism said, then indicated where the rest of his friends waited some distance ahead. "Now, let's go see Kaeral about training new troops."

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