Chrysalis - Chapter 621

Published at 26th of October 2020 12:39:20 PM

Chapter 621: In the mouth of madness
He sensed them before they came. The Shapers had been ordered to keep their senses tuned for just such an ambush, but the ants were getting clever. They must have placed dampeners or some other form of mana suppression in the tunnels, which meant he didn't have a whole lot of time once he detected the tell-tale signs through the ground.

"Contact!" Granin hollered, "beneath! Above! And in the damn walls!"

His voice didn't carry far above the din, but enough heard him to make a difference.

Shields went up, exploding with shimmering light that expanded to cover the golgari force on the flanks even as Shapers wove together shields. Flares of light arrowed from mage's hands into the rock around the tunnel, bringing points of illumination to the oppressive darkness.

What they saw wasn't pretty. From well concealed points on the walls and ceiling came a flood of insects, their antennae twitching furiously, lidless eyes staring as they launched their attack. Acid and magic came at the invaders from all sides, hammering into shields and coating them with hissing goo.

"Hold the line!" A voice roared, cutting through the noise. "Nothing here we didn't expect! Push forward! PUSH damn you!"

Granin could only shake his head. Low Blade Hironus Balta led this offensive, hoping to cover himself with glory in the eyes of his House and clan. Why the minor noble felt it necessary to drag an exhausted Shaper into the middle of the fight, he had a few suspicions, none of them good. Not much he could do about it now. Granin had known something like this would happen when he sent his triad away. He hoped those two kids were doing alright. More than that, he hoped Anthony was living up to the promise that the old Shaper had seen in him.

The tunnel was wide, close to two hundred metres at its widest point when the multiple passages came together, but the golgari hadn't spread to cover that space as they pushed toward the walled fort the ants had created. The attacking force was a thousand members strong, but they were outnumbered at least five to one.

He forced his tired mind to work, splitting off his mental constructs and tasking each of them with a role. Pain spiked through his head and he stifled a wince. He was pushing his limits here. Insanity had erupted in the tunnel and there was too much to take in. Mana swirled wildly through the air as hundreds of mages drew on the energy and cast it back out in a different form. Granin dedicated his own resources to firming up the shields on the left flank where he stood. Offensive magic was just as likely to hurt as harm in a situation like this. With acid covering the shields, he wouldn't be able to see what he was aiming at.

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The ants weren't committing so far, hanging back and not closing with the deadly blades of the golgari. It made for a slow, grinding battle where neither side wanted to commit. At least, so far. It was only a matter of time until someone declared the charge.

"SHIELD WALL!" Came a deafening shout. "ANCHOR YOURSELVES!"

What? Granin almost did a double take but forced himself not to turn his attention to the front. He had his own role to play and he knew better than to split his focus when he was already so drained.

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The Low Blade almost wished he were able to avert his eyes, he wasn't quite able to parse exactly what he was looking at. The golgari had been making slow and steady progress toward the ant fort. The moment they'd closed the distance, the insects would have been forced to retreat or die throwing themselves against a wall of swords.

It was clear the ants were pursuing a strategy of attrition, trying to wear down their betters. The very idea made Balta curl his lip. The Warriors of House Balta were indefatigable! They would push forward for weeks if necessary! The battle progressed exactly as he imagined it, right up until the ants defending the wall of their fort had parted and a host of armoured monstrosities had charged forth.

Huge ants covered in steel rushed forward with almost palpable glee, their mandibles eagerly gnashing and chomping at the air. From behind those behemoths came a tidal wave of insects, thousands of them, blasting acid overhead as they ran upon the floor and ceiling,

A quiver of fear rose in his chest but he ruthlessly quashed it. A noble of the Houses wouldn't falter in the face of these damned insects! He gave the orders to hold the line and a host of huge, broad shouldered Warriors stepped forward, massive tower shields mounted on their arms. Together they activated their defensive Skills as the front line stepped in behind them.

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"LET THEM TASTE YOUR SWORD!" He ordered and stepped forward himself, blade in hand.

Such was the weight and power of the insect charge that the ground under their feet was shaking, but the golgari held firm. Balta tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword and centred himself, allowing his emotions to fade as he channelled his energy into the blade. When he felt the technique reach its peak he bellowed and the sword blade flashed, tracing a brilliant arc of light in the air.

It was just one of a torrent of sword light that flew forward from the golgari lines towards the onrushing ants. Balta eagerly waited to see the result of their barrage. In his mind's eye he could already see the bugs cut to pieces, their charge dying in its infancy.

What he didn't expect, was for the armoured figures to throw themselves onto the sword light. He almost didn't believe it, but he swore he saw two of them thud into each other, trying to push the other aside so they could be the one to take the blow for the other.

The sword light struck home and the screech of metal filled the air as the ant-armour was rent and cut, causing the leading figures to stumble, but they didn't stop. Before the golgari could take another breath, the ants crashed into their line and all hell broke loose.

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