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Stand at Arimandrian

-462 SR, 76th day of Heatflow-

Chapter One: Sneaking in

It was the end of Heatflow, the long month of warm nights and even warmer days, and the Great War had been raging for years already. The dwarves and elves had fought endlessly back and forth, neither race gaining ground. The elves had magic and beautiful airships, yet the dwarfs’ use of clockwork gear-vehicles had given them an even advantage on the battlefields. The humans had remained neutral so far, not wanting to upset either side, but it wouldn’t be long before they would have to pick a side.

Dain Silvergear wound up the crank on the wheel housing and pulled the geartank to the left over a bump to avoid a massive root. It was cramped in the tiny geartank and he wasn’t sure he liked the smaller, slimmer version at all. The Geartank TNK 7 was an improved version of the dwarves massive iron war machines. It was meant for forest assault and could navigate the ancient forest where the other models could not. Dain shifted again and squirmed in his seat. It didn’t help that he was tall for a dwarf, almost five feet tall and carried that height with a very wide center of gravity. He weighed around fourteen stne and his long black hair was braided in the back along with his beard. Another bump and his head hit the iron roof. “Damnit Bors, that cannon is slowing my turns down!” Dain yelled out to the rear of the geartank. The TNK’s were all hauling  portable cannons behind them for the siege but they were heavy and cumbersome.

“Sorry Cap’n, I’m a tryin to compensate,” Bors said from the seat on the cannon, pulling a lever and listening for the sound of thrown items inside the geartank. Dain always threw things when he was angry and he could always tell how angry the dwarf was by how hard he was throwing stuff.

“Stop being sorry and do it!” Dain yelled, throwing a wrench at the side of the tank and smiling. He knew that the dwarf was doing his job; he just liked to keep him on his toes.

“Yessir cap’n!”

Dain smiled at the old dwarf. Bors was in his two hundreds and had short grey hair and a very long gray beard. His eyesight wasn’t what it used to be, but he could still swing an axe with deadly precision. “All right,” he said to himself, “Now let’s see where we are.” Dain pulled another lever and a tube popped down next to him. He stopped the geartank and looked into the tube, seeing the forest before him. There up ahead in the trees he could see faint lights flickering high up in the trees. Arimandrian. He pulled the break and opened the hatch, squeezing out and signaling the other TNK 7’s. “Ok, city is in sight, let’s rally and coordinate the assault.”

There were twenty of them, with one hundred dwarves following behind them on foot. Their target was the tree city of Arimandrian, a gorgeous city built up in the large Henna trees of the Forest of S’ren. They had traveled on the Geartracks, in carefully concealed cars and offloaded in the northern S’ren station. Driving the twenty miles or so to the forest in the dead of night, they made good time to the edge of the wood, then waited for the rest of the dwarves to catch up. The plan was to hit here because the elves had no airship defenses in the forest and without knowing of the new geartanks, they would never know what hit them. Normally the forest was too dense for the massive dwarven geartanks, but these new models were sleek and skinny, half the width and smaller on the whole, but still had a six-shooter black powder cannon in the front, two black powder bombs on the side that could be released as they drove, plus the portable cannon behind. After five minutes of discussion, they rolled forward, covering the last three miles to the city. Once there, they started firing into the tree top houses with abandon and hitting the trunks to bring them down; it had begun.

Chapter Two: Fateful Flight

The elven Magus patrol was flying over the Forest of S’ren on a routine drill. The king’s advisors didn’t expect anything serious from the dwarves in the close woods, since the geartanks and such can’t maneuver through the ancient wood, but stranger things have happened. Besides, they didn’t trust the humans to remain neutral for much longer.

Salen brought the airship in low and laughed into the wind. He loved these single rider ships and the way they could maneuver. The ship looked like a sleek metal fish with metal fins, pulleys, and gears. The coal forge was located under the pilot’s seat so the pilot could use the foot lever to feed it more coal as they steered the ship. With the steam driven cogs spinning the rotors, the pilot could in theory pick up speed while turning and pull off astounding feats of wonder in mid air. Too bad the elves behind him couldn’t appreciate that. Salen laughed again as he spun the ship around, looking at the elves flying beside him powered by magic. Salen Alasari was an Archmagus—one of the most powerful wizards in Tamia—and the head of the Magus Guild. He was five feet, seven inches tall with long white hair and deep silver eyes. He wore a battle worn, black longcoat—adorned with buckles and hooks, and chimes on his polished boots that made noise when he walked, but only if he wanted them to. His sword, Chance, sat in its scabbard at his side, and a small single shot black powder pistol was in a holster on his back. The long coat hid the weapon, as it was there as a last ditch defense; Salen had only ever used it twice.

His hair flying out behind him, Salen kicked the pedal and flooded the forge with coal once more, pulling up and taking off at breakneck speed. He was leading the patrol this day and his unit was on full alert despite the lack of worry from the advisory council. The Magus guild was adamant that the dwarves would attack the forest, even though they didn’t know how they would do it.

“Sir, should we fly lower so that enemy forces will have a harder chance to spot us?” Jalvarian asked, shouting over the wind rushing by as he flew closer to the Archmagus’s ship. He was Salen’s second-in-command, and probably the closest thing the Archmagus had to a friend. He wore his white hair in a braid, threaded with amethyst gems, and his cloak was flying behind him like some sort of hero in the bard stories. He favored blues and violets, so he tended to stick out in the air like a huge sign.

“All right, I’m bringing her down,” Salen yelled back. He steered the ship down a bit, closer to the trees and dove into the canopy with steady hands. The elves flew in right behind him, careful to stay away from the branches that could snag them easily out of the air. Salen was about to quip back at them about being worry warts when the sound of cannon fire snapped them all around to the north. It was miles away from the echo, but that meant only one thing; dwarves. Salen knew that mid speed was the fastest you should go through the forest, yet speed was of the essence right now. Cannon fire was bad, especially in the woods. He needed to see what the dwarves had brought and where they were. “Follow me!” he yelled as he punched the floor pedal, flooding the forge again and maneuvering through the trees at a speed that would make most seasoned soldiers faint.

“Like we have a choice?” Jalvarian asked mockingly to himself as his commander sped away through the trees. He knew that this was probably going to be bad, it had been one of those days ever since he got dressed, and  if he lived through this it would be a miracle.

Chapter Three: Fire at Will

Dain gave the order and the cannons fired again. The elves were scrambling to get some sort of defense and he could already see the cat riders lining up to make a run at the Geartanks. Let them come, he thought, they will taste only pain.

“Sir. They are pulling up to the right,” Bors yelled over the din of battle. He was in the back using the portable cannon and swiveling it by hand.

Dain snapped his head around, leapt up through the hatch and spun to see the elves sliding down the trees and swinging across to the left of the dwarves. The cats were a feint! “Roll left!” He called, dropping back into the hatch and closing it after him. He grabbed the wheel of the geartank and spun it over to the left to line up his six-shooter cannon through the targeting slit and opened fire. The huge Henna trees took most of the cannon fire, but the elves broke and never got to attack. He reached up and yanked a cord, blaring the horn four times on his geartank to signal an advance. Rolling over a smaller tree, hearing the crack of the timber, Dain lined up his cannon and fired again, seeing the elves trying to grab cover behind the large trees. Then he heard the great cats and knew that battle had truly been joined.

The great cats of the elves, called Kemin, were a dark purple in color with green stripes. They had huge teeth, with two tusks curling outside of the mouth to tear into their prey. The elves raised them and trained them to act as mounts, learning to fight astride them as a companion instead of just a pack animal. The result was a deadly combo in the forests as they could climb trees and leap from branches to attack those below. Spears clattered on the iron sides of the geartank and Dain just smiled. Primitive. Then he swore as a cat hit the side of the tank and rocked it. If this thing were to flip, he would be doomed.

Slapping the lever at his side straight up, he heard the gears grind into reverse and started backing up and around so he could target the cats, yet they eluded him. Cannon fire erupted off his bow and the cats could be seen leaping away, right into his crosshairs. Thank you Bors! Dain thought, hitting the button to fire his cannons. He took out a great cat and rider, their bodies rolling away into the forest. He was about to celebrate when two short horn blasts from the rear signaled enemy reinforcements. Dain looked and saw elves, flying through the trees with magic, descending upon the geartanks. He fired again and he would’ve scored a hit if a wall of earth hadn’t risen right in front of his cannon at the last minute. Earth and stones rained down on the outside of the geartank as the wall exploded.  “Damn Magus’s and their filthy magic!” Dain swore loudly, still backing up and swinging around. It was then that he saw the small airship weaving through the trees in a suicidal approach.

Dain smiled wickedly and hit the left floor lever, enabling the cannon to swivel upwards and let fire. The explosion rocked the battlefield as the airship took a direct hit, blowing it out of the sky and crashing into a tree. Regardless of the momentum of the fight, Dain knew they had to pull back and regroup. A magus force was something they had prepared for, but not airships. Dain jumped up through his hatch again and looked at the rest of his force. They were dropping their black powder bombs as they fought, blowing them as the elves came at them. One geartank dropped them and got stuck, close to 15 elves jumping on the tank and trying to get inside. The bombs went off, scattering the bodies in the air, while the heavy iron sides took the blast and remained intact. Hm, he thought, as he got back in, closing the hatch behind him, not a bad tactic. Yet he knew they were in trouble still. He blew the three horn combo to signal a tactical reverse and pulled back to get ready for an extended siege. He was still confident they could take this city, he just had to be careful.

Chapter Four: Preparing for War

Salen landed on the spiral staircase carved into the side of the Henna tree he crashed into. He had jumped last minute and floated down with the help of the air around him, narrowly escaping a fiery death. Again. I think that’s the seventh time since the war started, he thought to himself as he started to walk briskly upwards. That cannon had almost caught him off guard. Thankfully he had time to raise a shield of compressed air in front of the cockpit to absorb some of the blow so he could leap over the side in time. He was still hurting though, even air couldn’t stop the flames and splinters that rained down after him. He would need to heal with some magic in a minute; first he needed to get to his magus and see how the city fared.

“Archmagus! You’re alive!” Jalvarian called from the edge of the tree city walkway above him. He had landed on the upper tier, almost near the main city hall, and saw the explosion of the airship as it hit the Henna tree below. He had thought that was it for the Archmagus, yet once more the elf had skipped away from certain death. He had to be blessed.

“You thought one little cannon would kill me?” The Archmagus asked, finally getting to the top of the walkway with the others. Salen smiled and asked the ether to heal his wounds and flexed his arm to make sure it was all right. He wouldn’t admit how close that really was; it would only make him look bad.

Jalvarian smiled and took a quick look at the city. He saw the evacuation going well down below, the magus’s helping the elves down quickly before the dwarves came back in for another run. The Kemin riders were keeping them busy for now, but those cats would get tired before long. Hells below, they all would. “Sir, I’m thinking of keeping Yell’rana and Faergaith on evac while the rest of us bolster the ranks of the soldiers below.” Jalvarian phrased it as a thought instead of a fact, that way it would sting less when the Archmagus shot down his idea; he always did.

“Sounds good, Jal, I’ll be going down with you as well. The Lord is already helping with the children, and we both know that I can do the most good against those new tanks. Did you see how thin they were?” Salen was surprised at the new design and knew why the city had been taken by surprise. Clever dwarves and their inventions.

Jalvarian stopped midstride and turned, openmouthed. The Archmagus agreed? He would’ve questioned the man’s health—and if he had hit his head in the crash—but his sarcasm was stopped by a running youth

“Excuse me, great sir?” the young elf asked, running up to the gathering on the high walkway. Keni’dal was only thirty five years old, and, for an elf, that was practically a baby. He had very short white hair and ice blue eyes. Keni’dal had been told that his stare could unnerve people, but he didn’t know why.

“Great sir? Young one, today my name is Salen. Archmagus, if you like.” Salen bowed as he said this, more for the men around him than the young boy. “What can I do for you?”

“I want to help fight sir..I mean Archmagus,” Keni’dal said, puffing out his chest. He was determined to help save his city. “My name is Keni’dal and I’ve been training to cast magic so I can join the Magus Guild.”

“You know some good combat spells do you Keni’dal?” Salen asked, keeping the sarcasm out of his voice for once. He knew that the beginners weren’t taught anything like combat magic, still asking was important.

Keni’dal would not be deterred. “Well, no, sir but even mundane magic can be used to bolster forces in a fight. I could help cushion soldiers when they fall, I could lift cats out of the path of those tanks with air, I could…”

“All right I see your point,” Salen acquiesced, cutting the boy off before the Magus around him dropped their mouths on the walkway. Thinking like that was well beyond a beginner. Hells below, it bordered on expert. “You may accompany Jalvarian here and take instruction from him.”

“Oh thank you Archmag..”

“But!” Salen cut him off with a warning finger, “You must obey every order he gives you. If he says to retreat, you run. Got it?” Salen saw the boy’s eyes and knew the answer already. “Now let’s get down there and push those dwarves back.”

Chapter Five: Onslaught

Dain sounded the advance and the TNK’s rolled onward once more. They had skirmished with the Kemin riders and ground troops and had beaten them back. They had regrouped and were now attacking with a purpose. They were all going to concentrate fire on one tree at a time and take it down. The destruction of one of the Henna trees should sow enough chaos that they could take an easy victory even with the magus helping them. The dwarf fired again and took out a great cat, sending the rider flying, then the rider stopped mid air and set don lightly. Magic! Squinting his eyes at the damned foul magic of the elves, Dain fired at the elf and was even more angered when a wall of earth rose up again in front of his cannon. “Bah! Yer damned stinking elf!!” he yelled, punching the floor pedal to lurch the geartank forward and up over the blockade that the elven soldiers had tried to set. Branches broke and snapped as the huge iron vehicle rode over them, and through another earth wall.

“Fire again!” Bors yelled over the clamor of the cannons and the screams of the elves. The geartanks fired in succession once more, hammering at the tree mercilessly. He was about to fire his portable cannon again when a hail of ice shards came hurtling out of the canopy above. He threw his arms up, but it was too late. Bors fell next to his cannon, the melting ice deep in his chest.

Dain heard the pelting of the ice on the outside of the geartank and fired again, then he saw an elf come flying over the hill spreading his hands out and shooting flame across his field of vision. He slapped the lever near the slit and dropped the shield just in time, then fired blind in the direction of where the magus last was. The heat was bad, but he sweated it out and threw the gears in reverse again, trying to back away from the heat. He can’t keep it up forever, he thought as he wiped his forehead with his sleeve. When the heat started to lessen he opened the slit once more and saw the elf on top of another TNK, the hatch open and the inside sparking with electricity. Dain lunged up, opening the hatch and popping out to take a look at the rest of his forces. To his right the ground forces were fighting with the elven soldiers and some of the Kemin riders. To his left and straight ahead, the geartanks were engaged with the magus and having mixed results; that was when he saw Bors.

Dain stared at the lonely portable cannon and the still figure next to it for longer than he should have, trying his best to deal with the loss in his heart. He turned and locked eyes with the elf that had sprayed fire at him and saw the damned devil salute him. In a whisper as soft as death he called out to the elf. “I will kill you, or die trying you evil fiend.” With that he dropped down and closed the hatch. Settling into his seat he methodically hit the gears and levers to get him going towards the elf and the destroyed geartank he was on, never slowing down. Dain fired again and again, yet he wasn’t trying to hit the magus. He saw the walls of earth and even air deflect shot after shot from his six shooter cannon and it wasn’t until it was too late that the elf realized Dain’s intention. He rammed the geartank at full speed, rocking the elf off and down to the ground, then Dain spun the lever and swiveled the TNK around trying to ground the magus into the earth he loved to throw around so much. He heard a distant scream and knew that he hit the mark at least a little bit. He pulled it around some more, trying to get a clear view and saw the elf limping away, half flying and still shielding others with his magic. Dain blared the horns signaling a full advance and punched it, rolling over the bodies of the fallen elves. “This is for you Bors.”

Chapter Six: Defend the City

Salen walked on his healed foot and shook his head at how close he had come this time. Still it wouldn’t stop him from going back out there. It had been over five hours now that they had been holding the dwarves back from destroying the city since hearing the first cannon fire. Almost all of the families were out of the treetops and casualties were good despite the odds they were facing. The dwarves had sustained heavy losses from their ground troops and were now down to ten geartanks. The elves had lost over thirty soldiers and half of their Kemin riders—only losing six of the great cats—as well as Yell’rana the magus. She was escorting families down from the houses high up in the Henna trees and was caught by cannon fire. She had seen it coming, but used her magic to shield the family and took the hit herself.

“Ready to get back in there sir?” Jalvarian had just come up from a stint against the geartanks who were entrenched right at the edge of the city. Their reckless advance after the Archmagus had taken out one of the TNK’s was halted by magic, but they couldn’t get them to retreat, there was just too much firepower.

“Shouldn’t they be running out of coal to run those things?” Keni’dal asked, coming up behind Jalvarian. He had learned quickly being by the magus’s side in the thick of it and had even saved a couple of soldiers from cannon fire. Right now the adrenalin was keeping him from feeling the full effects of battle, but when that wore off he would be hurting.

“Yes and no,” Salen answered both questions. Then he saw the face of the young elf and laughed. “No Keni’dal, they brought extra coal with them, no doubt stored in the buckets behind the portable cannons. He turned to Jal and clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll be down there for a bit, you rest with the young one.” He stepped off the walkway and called upon the air to float him down, looking at where the dwarves had stopped. Their wild charge, after almost crushing him, had almost breeched the perimeter but the magus threw up walls of air and earth holding them back. He touched down and ran over, fighting for over an hour against the dwarves and their machines.

They were losing elves and cats, but holding still. Salen called up both fire and water to create a cloud of hot steam as two geartanks got too close, aiming the cloud right at the iron machines. The cloud washed over two of the geartanks and filtered in through the slits. The horrible screams that echoed from the iron vehicles told him that they were out of commission, for now, but to make sure he would entwine them with roots from the ground. Before he could, Salen saw Lyslindra, one of his Magus, fall to the axes of the dwarves on foot. They were blocking the magus from the two geartanks behind them and sacrificing themselves so the slim tanks could fire upon the large Henna tree.

That tree had taken so much damage that it couldn’t possibly withstand much more, and looking up, Salen saw it start to waver as if caught in a strong wind. Except no wind could ever move trees this size. It was in that moment that Salen saw a large group of elves running down the wooden stairs grown into the sides of the tree. His elven eyesight picked out a familiar elf helping them, using his magic to lower the young children even though he probably knew he wouldn’t make it himself. Keni’dal. He’s helping families that didn’t get out in time and now that tree is coming down…unless I stop both tanks, Salen thought, as he gathered his courage around him like a cloak. He raced along the ground, finding a lone Kemin and vaulting into the saddle. It raced ahead, part of its training from birth, and Salen called upon the wind and roots at the same time. He had never tried this and to maintain control it would take everything he had, but he had to try.

The roots broke up from the ground, caught up in a twirling wind that was going faster and faster by the second, and gripped the geartanks in their powerful hold. The wind then spun the roots in a circle, creating a whirlwind of wood and iron that devastated the surrounding dwarves and another geartank behind them in one horrific display of magic. Swaying in his saddle, Salen held on to the great cat for another five minutes as the wind tore the iron machines apart and guided the cat back to the city. He was spent and shaking with the drain of magic, but the dwarves were falling back now; they wouldn’t let them though.

Epilogue: Sunset

Dain climbed out of his ruined TNK 7. They had been pushed back and beaten soundly and he just couldn’t see how. They had surprise, numbers, and advanced technology. The elves had lost soldiers and at least three of their Magus, but they still kept defending the now empty city. He stumbled over a root and looked at his dwindling forces. He only had two geartanks left and about thirty dwarves, yet he could still rally them if he could get to them in time. He saw the TNK’s to the far left keep rolling backwards, trying to keep distance between them from the Kemin riders and Magus coming up on them. “Troops! Flank the riders and help the geartanks!” he called to the stragglers around him and to the rear. He saw them look and back at him, a haunting look in their eyes; they were beaten.

Dain reached a portable cannon that looked salvageable and turned it with his shoulder, cradling his badly burnt arm. “You there, give a hand,” he called out to a passing dwarf and was surprised to see the young warrior stop and help him; mainly because the young man was missing an eye. “You’re a tough one aren’t ye? What’s yer name lad?”

“Hargrath Hammersmith, captain,” The dwarf said, pushing the cannon into place. He grabbed the pull cord and made sure the powder was packed. “Hold on sir, here we go.” He aimed quickly and fired, slamming into the group pursuing the dwarves and saw at least one magus go down.

“Nice shot man!” Dain said, clapping the young dwarf on the shoulder with his good arm. He was about to load the cannon again when he saw the Demon of Arimandrian flying over. That damned Archmagus had been given the odd nickname after the tenth hour of fighting against the dwarven force, staying in the front lines and bringing down three geartanks at one time with his magic; the one that got away. “Run lad, were done for,” Dain said, shoving him away and pulling his axe with his good arm. He saw Hargrath run, sprinting through the trees with about eight other dwarves as the elves fell over the remaining geartanks with their magic and great cats. The Archmagus landed and pulled a slim sword with all the skill of a master swordsman.

“You can’t hope to beat me, good dwarf, surrender and you can live.”

“Wasn’t thinking of fighting you at all, demon, just wanted you to get close enough so that I could nick you.” Dain smiled, looking at his target which wasn’t anywhere near the Archmagus. He just needed him to start talking; they always liked to talk.

“Listen, you can’t even lift that sword properly, never mind get in one nick on me.” Salen was astounded at the dwarves stamina. He had been on his feet for over ten hours and this dwarf had been doing it before he got here. It was a pity he would be this stubborn.

“You? Nah, I thought I would nick something else.” Dain smiled and swung his axe as the elf side-stepped back and to the right, lining up his sword to parry; he found no weapon in reach. Instead, the elves eyes widened as he realized what Dain had been talking about. His axe came down with a mighty spark, metal against metal and ignited the remaining black powder in the cask near the portable cannon. His smile never wavered as it went up in a blast of flame and force, throwing the Archmagus more than fifty feet away into a huge tree.

Salen groaned and rolled over, patting his longcoat where it had caught fire. Three ribs at least and I’m damned sure my leg is broken. Good thing I put that shield up halfway through, he thought, casting a simple healing spell from ether and closing the open wounds. The battle was over and they had driven the dwarves back and destroyed their forces almost completely. “Think I’m just going to rest my feet for awhile and let someone else find me for a change,” he said to no one in particular, as he put his hands behind his head and memorized the names of the fallen magus that had given their lives this day. Sometimes being a legend was hard indeed.

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