A story that takes place during The Battlemage from Arcturus' viewpoint., released in the special, hardcover edition of The Battlemage US repackage from Barnes and Noble.
The Battle of VocansEdit
THE BATTLE WAS LOST. Up and down the lines, only a few pockets of soldiers struggled on against the gray hordes as they continued to pour from the jungle. Screams intermingled with guttural orc bellows as the last of Hominum’s finest were cut down. Arcturus blinked gun smoke from his eyes and lowered his carbine. His shot had disappeared into the oncoming wave, like a river pebble thrown into the sea. There was no saving them.
Beneath him, his Hippalectryon raked the ground nervously with a hoof, sensing Arcturus's despair. They had fought long and hard, and now Arcturus's sword was sticky in its scabbard with blood, the barrel of his gun fouled with black powder.
But the fragile line had broken before the orcs’ final charge, the green recruits barely firing a single barrage before retreating in a mad rush of abandoned weapons and trampled tents.
“Captain, what are your orders?” a frantic voice called from behind him Arcturus glanced back to see the last of his Dragoons staring at him. These were the mounted battlemages under his command, the best and brightest of Hominum's summoners. So few ... so few had survived.
Somewhere in the distance, the boom of a lone cannon sign that a battle still raged farther down the lines.
They were on a rocky outcrop far beyond the trenches – but close enough to smell the metallic tang of blood on the wind. Already orcs were lumbering toward them, eager for slaughter. His men could not hold off an entire army.
"Fall back to Vocans," Arcturus ordered, surprised at the steadiness of his voice. "We can make our stand there."
He tugged on the reins and his demon broke into a gallop, leading the scant two dozen Dragoons that had survived the battle down the pitted earth road that had been behind them.
Ahead, a broken stream of retreating foot soldiers limped toward the dubious safety of the old castle in the distance. Arcturus could not help but pity the poor men, cowards though they were. Many would never make it there.
Within his consciousness, Arcturus felt his other demon Sasharissa, demanding to be summoned. But the Canid had been injured - a deep cut from an orc macana had laid bare her ribs. He had used the last of his mana to heal her, but she was still weak from blood loss. She needed to save her strength.
"Sir, is Hominum lost?"
Arcturus turned to see the pale face of Caspian looking at him. The boy was one of the Dragoon's newest and youngest members, a commoner who had graduated from Vocans two years earlier.
"Not yet, lad. Not while we're still breathing."
His words were meant as encouragement, but Caspian paled and looked fearfully over his shoulder.
Arcturus grimaced and leaned forward, patting his Hippalectryon's neck. She was a beautiful creature, her front half that of a horse, but with a sharp beak instead of a muzzle and red wattle in place of her mane. Her back half was a rooster's, with razor-sharp talons and a fan of red-green tail feathers that matched her fur and plumage.
The demon chirred and pranced with pleasure at Arcturus's caress.
They were relatively new to each other - he had only harnessed her a few weeks ago.
He had kept the name her original owner had given her: Basan. She had been Elaine Lovett's demon once. But Arcturus had known how much his old friend missed flying. So he had offered to trade his own demon, his Alicorn, in exchange for her Hippalectryon.
Even now, with the savage orc hordes hard on his heels, he could not help but smile at the memory of when Elaine had finally taken to the skies once more. Her peals of laughter as she and the Alicorn swooped back toward him. The scent of her hair when she had hugged him.
The pair had grown closer since her accident. Her recovery had been a difficult one, but Arcturus had persevered through all the pain and disappointment. Elaine would never be able to use her legs again. But she would also never be more brave, or beautiful, in Arcturus's eyes.
The sound of gunfire, crackling along the straggled lines of soldiers behind him, broke Arcturus from his thoughts. He spun in his saddle, peering through the haze of gun smoke. More scattered shots went off, but the orcs were too far away to be the targets; he could just make out their lumbering figures in the distance. Stranger still ... the soldiers were firing upward.
The sky darkened above him. He caught a glimpse of something black and scaly, heard the flap of leathery wings. Then his world was full of flames, scouring the soldiers from the earth.
Heat battered him like a giant fist, knocking him from his mount and into the dirt. He heard men scream in agony as their bodies were incinerated. A man ran in circles mindlessly, engulfed in an inferno. A gun fired and the man fell silent to the ground — put out of his misery.
Arcturus stared into the sky, searching the clouds for the attacker. A word echoed from the recesses of his memory, spoken by his protege, Fletcher, in the flickering light of the library hearth.
A bony hand helped Arcturus to his feet — Caspian, his eyes wild, a smoking carbine over his shoulder.
"Sir ... Sir!" It was all the lad could say as Arcturus scrambled into his saddle.
He could hardly believe what he saw. A dark furrow had been burned into the road, turning the nearby grass to ash and leaving the soil bubbling. The sizzling corpses of the men caught within it lay like scattered coals, while the injured on the periphery writhed and smoldered, calling for water, or their mothers.
His Dragoons were unharmed, though the fur of two of their demons had been singed, leaving an acrid stench that mingled with the sickening smell of roasted flesh.
Then a howl echoed behind him. It took one glance to see the eerie shapes of enemy demons, tearing along the ground toward them. Beyond, the orcs bellowed and ran, emboldened by the Dragon's fire.
"Ride," Arcturus called, slapping Basan's rump. "Ride like your lives depend on it!"
IT WAS A TIME OF MADNESS. Of thundering hooves, flashing skies and gut-churning horror as the great Dragon swooped and scorched the land around them.
All the while, howling demons dogged their flight — monsters torn straight from nightmares. Blood-crazed Canids scampered at their heels, and howling Lycans rattled Arcturus's rib cage with their cries. But worst of all were the Nanaues, four-legged sharks that tore the earth with every leap and bound, their slavering mouths devouring the soldiers that had been spared the flames. Arcturus did not know which fate was worse.
Leading the orcs beyond were the Rhino Riders, the fearsome cavalry of the orc civilization. Their great horns cut the air like the prows of warships, and the orcs that rode them whooped as they struck down soldiers with great sweeps of their macana war clubs.
Arcturus clung to Basan's neck as the Hippalectryon galloped across the land, dodging and swerving around the desperate soldiers who were caught between certain death and the outline of Vocans's castle beyond.
He could see their refuge flashing against the horizon as he crested a low hill. His heart plummeted at the sorry army that waited at its base - a scant few hundred men, strung out in a thin line before its gates.
Only a handful of the retreating men had made it back, for the red uniforms of the king's soldiers were but a smattering among the garish colors of the noble houses. The personal guards of the nobility were making a last stand.
And yet, there was courage there. The last Hominum's warriors would not hide in the castle while the enemy swept in to pillage the helpless villagers. They would fight.
Arcturus saw Hominum's battlemages arrayed in loose order ahead of the soldiers, their hands spread in readiness, demons crouched beside them. Already, spells were flying across the field, streaking by and hurling orc demons back as they snapped at the bone-weary men who staggered toward the safety of that thin line.
The barrage gave Arcturus breathing room as he reined in Basan, looking back at the maelstrom of demons that followed in their wake. The orc warriors behind were slowing now, forming into ranks as they prepared to charge Hominum's army, while the demons still came on, backed by the Rhino Riders that stampeded in a juddering wall of leathery flesh and horns.
Then, as if some signal had been passed along Hominum's lines, the battlemages released their own demons, the creatures racing across the gap to meet the enemy. Flashes of fur and scales tore by as the Dragoons stumbled into the relative safety of the battlemage lines, while behind the world flashed orange as the Dragon's flames poured forth once more.
An eagle's cry broke through the screams, and Arcturus turned his eyes to the heavens. The outlines of two figures passed beneath the clouds. He could see the burgundy skin of Ignatius as well as the feathered form of Lysander. Sylva and Fletcher were here.
But there was no time to contemplate their presence. Because despite the supporting spellcraft of Hominum's battlemages, the allied demons were losing. The orcs had built a colossal army of the creatures, and their numbers were overwhelming.
"Sir, why have we stopped?" Caspian yelled over the din of battle. Arcturus looked sadly into the boy's eyes, knowing what he was about to ask of him. If Hominum's demons were defeated, the battlemages would soon fall, torn apart by the savage creatures beyond. He could not let that happen.
Sacharissa seethed within his consciousness. This was to be a battle to end all battles. He could not deny her.
"We fight here," Arcturus cried aloud so that all his men could hear. He tugged a summoning leather from his panniers and let it unravel, summoning Sacharissa in midair in a burst of white light. She shook her mane of black fur as she landed, baring her teeth in anticipation.
"For Hominum!" he roared, drawing his blade. And as one, they charged.
A score of Dragoons had survived the journey back, and now they hurled themselves into the melee of slavering teeth and slashing claws, where bone tore flesh and demonic blood spurted thick and hot.
Arcturus leaned out and hacked his blade deep into an Oni's neck, half-severing the humanoid's horned head from its shoulders. Even as the body toppled, Basan kicked high with her back legs, her talons catching a leaping Felid and tearing it to bloody ribbons.
Above, a roar shattered the din of battle, and then an enormous pair of claws raked the earth beyond, tearing through a pack of allied Canids. Even as Arcturus watched, the Dragon took one in its claws and crushed it to pulp.
The battle lust was upon him now, an adrenaline-fueled mix of joy and terror. A fireball whipped a streak of white-hot light across his vision, blasting an orc rider from its saddle as its macana passed a bare inch from Arcturus's face. Sacharissa howled as she buried her claws in the belly of the rhino beneath, before sinking her teeth into its throat.
Arcturus yelled in triumph ... And the world turned dark. Then Arcturus was tumbling in the air as Basan reared, throwing him to safety as great gouts of fire poured across the land. The Hippalectryon was caught in the blast, writhing in pain as she rolled in the mud to put out the flames.
The world spun, but Arcturus forced himself to move, to fight. He crawled over the steaming earth toward his demon's prone figure, ignoring the agony that echoed from her mind into his own. A body blocked his path, and he cried out in horror as the pale face of Caspian stared blankly past him. Then Sacharissa's snout was beneath his arm, heaving him forward.
The battle raged on ahead of them, beyond the flame-strewn ground. As Arcturus struggled to his knees, a Nanaue turned to look at them, its blunt shark head pointing like an arrow across the fire-blasted battle-field. Its maw flapped open, and it prowled toward them, while beyond it the massed orcs surged in a gray tide of baying warriors led by the last of their rhino cavalry.
Somewhere behind him, a horn was sounding, its timbre strange in his ears, and the thunder of gunfire clapped against his eardrums. Bullets and lightning whipped over Arcturus's head, yet the Nanaue was unscathed, its body low against the ground.
Arcturus fumbled for his sword. His hand met nothing but air - he had lost it in his fall. Sacharissa growled, ready to confront the more powerful demon head on, while Arcturus's hand scrabbled in the earth, looking for a weapon, anything. All he felt was hot mud and gravel. The Nanaue crouched to leap, even as the orcs' charge pressed in behind it. Hooves thundered in his ears, and the shark demon dove forward in a widening cave of jagged teeth.
But death did not touch him that day, for the gods had other plans. The demon was hurled high by tossing antlers as a tumult of brown fur broke around Arcturus. Elven warriors shouted their battle songs as they spitted the creature on their spears and rode onward, taking the battle to the orc lines across the corpse-strewn battlefield.
Elks swept by, jarring the kneeling Arcturus onto his back. Cheers resounded as Hominum's army followed behind their rescuers, feet stampeding around Arcturus's prone body. And in the heavens above, Arcturus saw a miracle.
The Dragon breaking from its swoop and turning toward a lone Drake, hovering beneath the cloud. A spiral of flame, broken by Ignatius's wings as three hidden figures burst forth, safe from the Dragon's blast. And the giant demon falling from the skies, crashing into Vocans and disappearing within.
Yet even as Arcturus's heart filled with triumph, he saw two figures tumble through the sky. An Alicorn and a Peryton, tangled in each other's wings and talons.
"Elaine!" he cried hoarsely, watching as the pair plummeted down ... into the depths of the orc horde.
Strength borne of desperation filled him then. He stood, aided by the broad shoulders of Sacharissa, and now he could hear Horninum's bugles sounding the order to chase. The orcs were retreating. Their master and savior was gone, seemingly killed as he fell through Vocans's roof. They had nothing left to fight for.
But Arcturus did not care. There was but one thought in his mind.
A step at a time, he staggered over the dead and dying, his arm wrapped around Sacharissa's neck, eyes fixed on where he had seen the demons fall. He ignored a man crying out his name, kicking away a hand that grasped his ankle. The world swam before his eyes as uniformed soldiers rushed past, shouting in triumph.
It was the longest walk of Arcturus's life. Halfway there he realized Basan was dead, and he felt her loss like a stab in his heart. Still he stumbled on, toward the feathered forms that lay spread-eagled on the battlefield.
Then he saw her, trapped beneath the Alicorn, her long dark hair pooled around her head. For a moment he thought her eyes stared through him, unseeing in death. But then he saw her blink, and tears began to stream down her face.
He could not remember running, yet it seemed he was suddenly there beside her, kneeling in the dirt.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, cradling her head in his hands.
"I can't feel my legs," she said, and laughed through her tears. She touched his face and slipped her hand behind his neck. Pulled him close.
"Elaine ... ," he whispered.
She kissed him deeply, with the selfsame passion he had felt through all those years but had never spoken of. Arcturus thought his heart would burst.
For the woman he loved was in his arms, and Hominum was saved.