Cherry Springs Nature Trail
Brilliant bright light enveloped the once-king, as power rippled out from the sword in all directions. Though her opponent shielded her face and looked away, Alexandra’s eyes pierced the brightness with no trouble. She was aware of it, but it neither obscured her vision nor caused her any discomfort.
She tilted her head up, and let loose a loud, ear-splitting roar, the like of which she would never have managed with a human throat.
“How is this possible?!” Leoffa demanded through the luminescence, her voice echoing as if in a cave.
Alexandra had only ever used Waldere as an instrument of war. It was a powerful weapon that could deflect or even negate almost any magical attack, and was also more than a match for even the finest of swords. Yet, she’d long suspected she’d never managed to unlock its full potential. As the power of the sword coursed through her body, she knew she’d been right.
At last the light faded, and she glanced down at herself, the hairs along her spine stand on end. She no longer bore the form of a tiny human woman, but the one which she had worn until coming to this world, that of Kruhl son of Wurdan, King of Eirdon, and Master of Waldere.
Again, he was whole. He stood fully seven feet tall, sword of magic clutched within his hands. Here was the king of old, the warrior who had united the scattered Assar tribes, and defeated the armies of the Sorcerer Odalrik. Here was the warrior with the strength to wield a weapon of such awesome power as Waldere.
He snarled and threw himself forward, moving at a speed that belied his massive stature. He was almost on top of his opponent when she vanished with a burst of violet flames.
“Leoffa,” Kruhl said his voice low and rumbling. “Enough with these games. Cease these coward’s tactics. I know you are a warrior at heart. Face me as any warrior would.”
Leoffa answered with a shriek of rage, appearing behind him with a second fiery eruption and an accompanying blast of power directed at his back.
Kruhl jerked away, but the beam scorched his side and he growled, rounding on the sorceress, sword arching down. Leoffa rolled away and swept her staff out, slamming it into the back of the Assar warrior’s leg. Flames lanced out from the tip and he howled, again slicing his weapon down, but his former lover was already back on her feet.
She tossed the staff aside and slipped her hands inside her cloak, producing a short sword from within. The once-king snarled, already bringing his blade around to meet her, but she ducked out of the way and slipped around to his side, slashing at his exposed midriff.
Kruhl howled, clutching at the injury, and barred his teeth, letting loose an ear-piercing growl.
Kruhl was fast for his size, but Leoffa was faster. He might have had the advantage in sheer physical power and size, but it would do him little good if he couldn’t land a blow. Having trained with and fought beside him for many years, she was familiar with his technique. It gave her an edge that few would have over the once-king.
As Leoffa swirled away, the Assar warrior backhanded her, sending her reeling to the clearing floor.
Of course, Kruhl also had an edge. Not only was he familiar with her fighting style, he’d had more opportunity to practice. While Leoffa had been honing her skills with her magic, Kruhl had been training with the sword. He was an even more capable adversary than he had been when they’d last known one another, and that was saying something.
Kruhl rushed forward, blade sweeping toward the ground where his opponent lay, but again Leoffa was too fast. She twisted aside and the once-king’s blade sliced into the dirt.
Leoffa circled around him, blade slicing at his flanks, but the warrior king pulled the blade free in a shower of dirt and spun around to confront her, both of their blades clashing. Kruhl pressed forward, forcing her back and pinning her with his boot. He kicked her weapon from her grip and leaned in close.
“I’ve always loved you, Leoffa. My feelings have never changed. We can still be together,” Kruhl said, a slight quiver to his voice. He thought of their night together when he’d thought her Amelia’s sister and his heart raced. “It doesn’t have to end like this.”
The sorceress’s hand went for her neck and the amethyst crystal which the Assar warrior had all but forgotten about. A wave shot out, and Kruhl stepped back to avoid it. Although the shot landed home, nothing happened and the once-king realized his mistake at once. It had been another illusion.
Leoffa stood up, one arm stretched out. Her staff zoomed across the clearing and soared into her open palm. Power crackled from the stone and smashed into Kruhl before he had a chance to raise his sword.
The Assar warrior doubled over, Waldere dropping from his numb hands, his whole body convulsing in pain.
“You betrayed me and left me for dead! You really think I would forget that?” Leoffa shrieked between barred teeth. She stepped closer, and the glow intensified. Kruhl collapsed, unable to do anything but flail about on the ground. He wanted so desperately to tell her that he’d never meant to attack her, but even were he able to speak, he knew anything he said would fall on deaf ears.
“Now,” she said darkly, a second darker bolt of energy sizzling out and shot toward the Crystal of Ban-Sher’i. “It’s time for you to die.”
Just when all seemed lost, a dark form jerked forward, slammed into the sorceress and knocked the staff out of her palms. Amy locked her hands around the other’s wrists, planted her knees into her rib cage and glowered down at her while holding her in place with her telekinesis.
“Uh, Amy?” Ashley’s guttural growling voice asked.
Amy clenched her jaw, glanced at the other woman who was crouched about a dozen feet away, and followed her gaze. The staff was still ablaze, sending dual beams out at Kruhl and the crystal.
Leoffa took advantage of the distraction and kneed Amy. The agent rolled over, clutching at her side and groaning in pain. The magic-wielder stumbled to her feet and started for her focus, but Amelia threw a hand out, catching her by the ankle. Her adversary toppled over, fists swinging.
“Ashley!” Amelia called between blows. “Do something!”
The second the words left her lips, Ashley’s armored form surged past, rocketing not toward the staff, but toward the crystal and the violet bonfire which contained it.
Leoffa’s attacks grew more frantic. Instead of fists, she mauled the agent with her clawed hands, tearing through skin and actually drawing blood with several swipes. She struck the agent across the face with her elbow. Amelia’s hand went limp, and the magic-wielder lurched back up, dashing toward her staff.
When she was less than four maybe five steps away, a loud cwrack sounded and she froze. She spun around on the balls of her feet to face Agent Van den Broeke, who’d drawn her gun.
The agent opened fire again, and her opponent dove for the staff, her hand outstretched. When her fingers touched the polished wood, a crackle of energy burst out and the beam which had encompassed the crystal, flickered and died.
She let out a shriek and twisted around, eyes scanning the clearing. Ashley hovered above the amethyst inferno, the Crystal of Ban-Sher’i clutched in a gauntleted hand. The fiery eyes of her grotesque faceplate seemed to burn with malevolent glee.
Leoffa lashed out, sending an amethyst beam of power surging toward the armored hero, but Ashley dove forward and the attack zoomed past, dispersing into the open sky.
A roar sounded from the opposite direction and again the sorceress swirled around, realizing too late, that by attacking Ashley she’d released the once-king from her spell. Kruhl sprang to his feet and charged. She brought up her shield, but Waldere sliced right through it. Violet fire spilled out from her staff, but the sword absorbed it.
There was a glint of steel and Leoffa’s fallen sword was back in her hands. She struck out, barely managing to deflect Kruhl’s attack. She dove forward, sweeping out with her blade, but the once-king deflected it with ease and parried with an attack of his own.
Leoffa dove down, and Kruhl’s blade sliced through the air mere inches from the top of her head. Leoffa growled and rolled away as the warrior’s weapon came slashing down. Though she was an adept fighter, she could not win in a direct sword fight, Kruhl was too strong and his reach too long.
The sorceress howled and sprung back up. She dropped her sword, and instead, snatched her staff up and threw it above her head. Fire lanced out in every direction around her, burning the ground in a wide swath which consumed the dry brush all around him. Kruhl slowed eying the flames, his lips curled back from his muzzle as he emitted a low warning growl.
Seizing the opportunity, Leoffa struck out, an amethyst burst cascading around a tree. She jerked her arm up and there came a rumbling sound from the earth and a series of loud cracks as the gnarled old tree, whose trunk was twice as wide around as Kruhl’s chest, rose from the ground. With a snarl and a vicious cackle, she flung her magical focus out, and the tree hurtled toward her enemy.
Leoffa had just exposed one of Waldere’s most glaring flaws. The tree was already moving, and the sword could no sooner halt its forward momentum than it could perform a song and dance routine. The tree slammed into Kruhl and sent him hurtling away and into a copse of trees.
“Now,” the magic-wielder said, spinning around to face Ashley, Leoffa’s staff pulsating and crackling with power. “I’ll take that crystal back.”
Ashley met the other woman’s gaze, tightened her grip around her prize and raised her arm canon. The sorceress gritted her teeth, and hurled a bolt of power at the armored form, but her target spun away and the blast struck an old fir tree, splintering it into oblivion.
Leoffa brought her staff forward to attack again, but her arm stopped short. It was as if some invisible force had grabbed on to her. She turned her head and watched as Amelia van den Broeke stepped into sight. The agent threw her hands out, and the sorceress’s stomach lurched as the ground fell away and she soared into the air.
Amy spun, raised her hands, fixed her gaze on the tree which had pinned Kruhl in place and with a simple flick of her wrists sent it zooming away. Kruhl slumped over, a groan escaping his muzzle.
Sizzling power crackled and hit the agent, sending her slamming into the ground. Leoffa hobbled forward, using the staff to prop herself up. A blast of energy swirled out from the gemstone, but Kruhl pulled himself up and raised Waldere, which was still clutched in his hands, and moved forward, gaining speed with each step.
Blasts of amethyst fire followed in his wake, but his blade absorbed the only ones that came close to striking. When he drew close, the sorceress raised her staff to block a blow that would have hit her chest and sent fire rippling out in a semicircle.
Waldere blocked most of it, but even the weapon’s magic could not contain all the fire. Flames dances all around them, and Kruhl howled in pain and fury as they licked his sides.
Kruhl pulled his arm back, and his weapon swept out, slicing through her neck. She threw out more fire, but though the attack burned the fallen king, it was too late.
The Assar warrior watched her head fall from her shoulders, and her body crumple to the ground. Then, he fell to his knees, huddled over her fallen form, threw his head back and roared, tears streaming down his muzzled face. Light flared from the sword and enc0mpassed his towering from, but he paid it no heed.
It was over.