A Wocky lurched forward with a morning star and swept it toward Hyren. The Grundo moved to block, but his straining muscles just couldn’t move his sword in time. Hyren cringed and waited for the blow to land.
Before the chunk of spiky metal reached him, something white and sparking streaked down from the sky and caught the Wocky up in its enormous jaws. It was an oversized Biyako made of fireworks, and the feline Petpet shook the phantom soldier like a toy before tossing it away to dissolve into the green miasma. Seemingly satisfied, the Biyako tore through the ranks, leaving mayhem and mist in its wake.
Hyren looked to the sky. “Blynn?!” he shouted.
Gwyneth banked overhead, a familiar disco Zafara on her back, slingshot loaded. “Thought I’d find you here!” Blynn replied, firing into the horde. Her shot turned into a Quilin, which rampaged regally, tossing spectres to and fro.
“I thought you were with Terra!” Hyren called back.
Gwyneth alighted in front of the two warriors and Blynn took out another potsherd from her ammo pouch. “I thought about what you said,” she said, “and, well, I don’t wanna give up either. Not when Terra’s in trouble. Besides, I kinda thought you might need me.”
“What made you think that?” Isengrim asked.
She grinned and said, “Intuition.”
“But how did you find us?” Hyren asked, moving toward her. The mist rested deep on the ground by now and it was strangely thick. Walking through it felt like wading through mud.
Blynn jabbed her thumb back at the sky and said, “Followed those guys.”
The clouds broke and a volley of magic poured down upon the spectral army, vanquishing them by the dozens. Through the cloud cover streamed hundreds, no, thousands of dark figures flapping great Draik-like wings. A Darigan Krawk at the forefront gestured downward and shouted something, and the cavalry unleashed another deluge.
“Get on!” Blynn said. “Don’t want you guys caught in those spells!”
Hyren and Isengrim clambered onto the Ganuthor, and Hyren’s aching body was all too happy for the rest. “Blynn… thanks,” he panted.
She tapped Gwyneth’s head and the Petpet took a running leap into the air. “This is what family’s for,” the Zafara said.
From their vantage point, Hyren watched as the fresh Darigan forces swooped down on the phantom army. Their appearance gave the Meridell and Brightvale knights a new boost of morale, and the two landbound kingdoms began to push back again.
“My pack, where is my pack,” Isengrim muttered from behind Hyren.
The Grundo scanned the ground until he saw the colour of bone. “There!” he said.
Like their leader, the pack had charged in headlong and gotten itself surrounded, and was now ferociously trying to hold the spectres at bay. The Werelupes looked on the verge of exhaustion, with many of their number wounded and being defended by those who could still fight. Hyren recognised Suhel from her combat style—she was standing over a fallen comrade, locking blades with a well-built Eyrie.
Blynn fished another potsherd out of her pouch and nocked it, taking aim. She fired, and it exploded into a Blurgah made of orange sparks. The bovine Petpet thundered down to the mass of phantoms, lowering its head and battering them away with its curved horns. As it tossed the Eyrie aside, Suhel looked up and tilted her ears toward the Ganuthor and her riders.
“Follow us!” Isengrim barked. “Return to the troops!”
“Yes, milord!” Suhel said. She sheathed her sword and slung the fallen Werelupe over her shoulders, and the pack began moving itself back to the banners while Gwyneth soared overhead.
“They’re thinning out!” Hyren said, scanning the field. “I think we’ve overpowered them!”
“Good,” Blynn muttered, firing another few shots.
The Darigan assault had reduced the phantom army’s numbers considerably, and now the air force was coming back for another pass, driving the remaining soldiers toward the swords of the knights. More and more spectres were added to the mist.
By the time Gwyneth landed next to Commander Natalya, Hyren could see an end to the seemingly infinite troops. The Nimmo slumped in her saddle, her blade drooping beside her. “It’s… it’s almost over,” she breathed, barely glancing their way.
“I guess we’re really seeing this one out to the end,” Feitz said, trotting up on the other side of Gwyneth. “Although I suppose none of those ghouls is going to wave a white flag, are they?” He chuckled a little.
“Well, we’ve got them where we want them now,” Isengrim said. “Not much left to do but clean up.”
“Frankly, I’m more worried about this mist,” Natalya’s mount said, lifting her front hooves to inspect them. “It’s rather unnatural.”
“Nothing about our enemies is natural,” Natalya said.
“Um, guys,” Blynn said as she looked out at the spectres. “Are they supposed to be doing that?”
The phantoms had stopped. Weapons lowered, they offered no resistance to the knights. But this was no surrender. They looked somehow stretched, and suddenly they began to stagger backwards, their fur fluttering like they were trying to walk against a gale-force wind. No—something seemed to be tugging at them, pulling them back.
The mist swirled around Gwyneth’s paws and she let out a grunt of alarm, hopping from one paw to another. Like a river, the fog flowed past her and into the spectres, and as it did so it reformed into warriors.
“No!” Natalya gasped. “We worked so hard to defeat them!”
“Wait—they’re not fighting,” Hyren said. The phantoms now looked faint, drained almost, and they were being pulled away with their brethren, looks of horror and despair on their faces.
Isengrim sat up. “They’re going back to the Werelupe Woods,” he said. “Skoll must be calling them back.”
Natalya glanced over at a nearby Jetsam battlemage. “What do you make of this?” she asked.
The yellow Jetsam held up her rapier, which glowed with a purple light. “It seems the phantoms’ magic power has been depleted,” she said. “They are exhausted of their ability to fight.”
“So… we won?” Blynn asked.
“For now,” the mage replied.
“Fall back!” Natalya called. “We are victorious! Brightvale is defended!” The knights let out a cheer, and the Draconian forces began to settle to the ground to join them. The Brightvale commander turned back to the battlemage. “What do you mean, ‘for now’?”
“Once their controller recovers from the stamina backlash,” the Jetsam said as she sheathed her blade, “he could send them forth again.”
“He’s pulling them back to the Well of Souls, no doubt,” Isengrim snarled. “This isn’t over. I’ve got to strike at him before he recharges.”
“Milord!” Suhel stalked past the troops, leading the other Werelupes. She placed her packmate carefully down on the ground and a mage rushed forward to heal him. “I thought we lost you back there—we couldn’t find you anywhere—“
Isengrim eased himself off of Gwyneth and gave Suhel the best hug their armour would allow. “I told you, I always come back,” he said.
“You like giving me heart attacks, don’t you,” Suhel replied, patting his shoulder. “What would you have us do now?”
“Return to Brightvale and tend to our wounded,” Isengrim said. “Then pack up camp and meet me at the Burrows. I’ll have it back in our possession by the time you get there.” He broke away and mounted Gwyneth again.
“You’re going after Skoll?” Suhel asked. “After what happened the first time?”
“I must break my owner’s curse,” Isengrim said. “I am returning to Brightvale to collect her.”
Hyren frowned. “Why?” he asked.
Isengrim looked over at him somewhat wearily. “Because I am worried about her,” he said. “Besides, it’s not like anything they can do can help her now.” He paused. “And we could use the help of that Lupe mage friend of yours, and she is still back at Brightvale Castle.”
“Celice?” Blynn asked. “Why not Seradar? He’s the most powerful mage in Brightvale.”
“Because I trust Celice,” Isengrim said. “And I am not yet ready to reveal the Burrows’ location to anyone else.”
“Fine,” Hyren grunted. After everything they had been through today, he didn’t feel like arguing. Besides, he had realised something during that battle, when he had decided to save someone who had once been his mortal enemy—if Terra could see some good in him, then Hyren wanted to as well. This was far from the first time she had inspired him to a higher way of thinking. But now Hyren’s head was spinning, trying to figure out how he would adjust to having the Werelupe King in the family.
“Oh, are you leaving?” Natalya asked. She placed a gauntleted hand to her chest. “On behalf of Brightvale, I thank you for your service today, Commander Hyren.” Her eyes moved to the Werelupe. “And you, King Isengrim.”
“Lord Isengrim,” he said. “But thank you.”
“’Lord’?” Natalya asked.
“It sounds better,” Isengrim said with a shrug.
“I must admit,” the Meridell commander said as he stroked his goatee, “having you lot on our side for once was a great boon. I wouldn’t mind it happening again.”
Isengrim smirked and said, “I suppose having vermin running around the mountains comes in handy sometimes. I must thank you and your forces for your help as well.” His grin grew more genuine. “Perhaps we shall assist each other like this again in the future.”
“I find I would not mind such an alliance,” Commander Natalya said.
The trip back to Brightvale Castle was much quicker by air. Behind them, Hyren could see the phantom army still slowly retreating back into the hills like an ebbing tide. He was glad that Brightvale had been defended, but Terra was no doubt still cursed. He couldn’t focus on much else.
Celice met them at the infirmary, her tail and ears drooping with fatigue. Her spectacles sat low on her snout and her yellow eyes regarded Hyren, Blynn, and Isengrim plaintively. “You’re back,” was all she could say.
“What are you doing here?” Hyren asked. “Did something happen to Terra?”
“She’s… not looking so well,” Celice said.
In spite of his own exhaustion, Hyren pushed past her to Terra’s room. Arsinoe sat at the owner’s side, earstalks limp as her hands moved in glowing circles above the young woman’s prone form.
The green Aisha blinked up at Hyren as he burst through the doorway, followed by the others. “I’ll be frank,” she said, “I’m not sure how much longer she’s got.”
Terra looked even more still than before, as though she had been lying in the bed for a thousand years. She was scarcely breathing, and her skin and hair looked clammy and stiff, like something found in a peat bog.
“Don’t tell me we’re too late,” Hyren said, placing a hand on her forehead. “Oh, please…” Not now, not after he had fought so hard to keep her.
“Terra…” Isengrim said as he lifted her from the bed, carefully cradling her head against his bone chestplate.
“What are you doing?” Arsinoe asked.
“Going to get her curse broken,” Isengrim said. “But I thank you for all you have done to preserve her, Master Magus.”
Arsinoe nodded. “Celice here has been assisting as well,” she said.
Hyren turned to the Lupe mage and said, “Celice, we could use your help defeating Skoll, if you’re up for it.”
“We received Weewoo of your victory at the Sweetwater Fields,” Celice replied. She glanced over at Terra. “So I’m guessing it’s time to go after the source. Well, for Pharazon’s sake, I’m not letting that wretch of a wizard go unpunished!” She pushed up the sleeves of her robes like she was readying for a fistfight.
Isengrim took a breath. “Lady Magus,” he said, “with all due respect, I have learned that vengeance is never the answer. We must stop Skoll, but do not let hatred for him fester in your heart. I do not think Pharazon would have wanted that.”
“Oh—“ Celice paused, her shoulders drooping. “Yes… I suppose you’re right,” she said. “But I’m certainly going to make sure he doesn’t carry out his plans!”
“Lady Anfel!” Arsinoe said. She rooted around in a drawer and tossed a potion the Lupe’s way. “This’ll perk you up!”
“Thanks!” Celice said. She caught it, popped off the stopper, and chugged down the bubbling orange liquid. Her ears and tail lifted, and a bit of spark came back to her eyes. She pushed her spectacles back up her snout and grinned toothily at her companions. “Let’s finish this.”