Crimson Twilight: Midnight

Chapter 67: Dangerous Aid

"About time you got away from your friends, Makaelthos Solcry." the rogue whispered. "Did you think I was going to stay around while this place swarms with knights?"

As the Regular Army moved in, Makaelthos had gone over to a distance portion of the wall; away from the rest of his allies while Khaesilya stayed behind to set up a temporary quarters for him by the gate. It took him a bit of time to do so given his expanding role in the army. In this hidden location, he met up with one of the many Nightknife agents that Trynis had stationed in Izlude. He didn't recognize this agent but the rogue's tall height, short, light gray hair and pale skin made him Al de Baranian; likely a member of Nykeia's former guild "Time" before it was co-opted into Nightknife.

"My apologies." Makaelthos replied. "It's not that easy to get away from an entire army. You've done your part, operative, thank you."

"I didn't stick around for your thanks!" the rogue groused. "Nightknife Mistress Seryth asked me to give you some more information as a parting gift."

"So she's NightKnife Mistress now." Makaelthos said. He and Kallifen were the only ones who held that rank before.

"You would know. You offed Kallifen and left a spot empty-Sorry."

The rogue hastily added the apology after a quick glance at Makaelthos's hardened expression.

"I'm not here to test your jabs." Makaelthos said; his tone unchanging. "Share your information before we're discovered. If we are, I'll be forced to arrest you to avoid drawing suspicion."

"Right." The rogue said. "It'll take your army days to clear out all the raydrics in the city, Solcry, not counting deaths and resources."

"Stop telling me things that an addled squire can conclude."

"Right. Since you agreed to her conditions, Mistress Seryth asked that you be given these." The rogue handed Makaelthos a small sheaf of papers. "Use them as you like."

"Where is Nykeia right now?"

"Back in Al de Baran, probably. I'm getting out of here, Solcry. Don't expect anymore NightKnife help, we're abandoning this place before the Lord of Death or your Regular Army starts hunting us down."

"Leave then. Give your Nightknife Mistress my thanks."

Without another word, the rogue gone. Makaelthos turned his attention to the papers that Nykeia had provided him. As he had hoped, they contained everything he needed from Nykeia; a layout of the city, heavily defended positions, ambush spots and ways to get around them. There was also one particular highlight in the layouts that he focused on.

Makaelthos looked around him as he put the papers away for a while. It didn't take long for the Regular Army and its allies to occupy the outer walls of Izlude. It was late afternoon by the time they finished recovering from the initial battle and began to set up base. Makaelthos watched as the Third and Fourth Hunter Divisions stationed their troops upon the defensible positions while the rest of the army gathered by the front plaza and just outside the gate. Commanders and officers occupied some of the abandoned structures nearby while tents were being set up for the rest of the army. A large portion of their forces settled just outside of the gate. Night time was closing in and they were not going to begin city-fighting in the dark.

They were going to have to retake Izlude now; street by street, house by house. Large formations were useless in now. They needed smaller teams of soldiers to begin the long, arduous process of sweeping the satellite city.

The team formations had already been discussed days ago before they marched for Izlude. The Grand Commanders agreed on creating teams comprising four knights, three hunters a priest and two wizards each. Sages, war assassins, additional knights, hunters, priests and wizards were also on standby; ready to assist when necessary. Street assignments had been handed out as well. The formation of these teams had Makaelthos thinking of the current structure of the army. Perhaps it wasn't a bad idea to mix the divisions up like this on a larger scale to give division commanders greater flexibility.

He was still thinking about this when Eliarainne walked over after making sure that her troops had gone to their assignments. She watched as a group of orcs formed their own teams and discussed plans with some of their human counterparts. "They're working with the Regular Army pretty well." She said. "I'm surprised."

"You should talk with their leader." Makaelthos replied. "Their ability to work well with humans is Lasvekk's influence."

"You mean that strange-looking high orc assassin?" Eliarainne asked. "There must be a hell of a story behind his being their new chief. And I thought I understood how the orcs thought a bit."

"They're a proud warrior people." Makaelthos said. "But necessity drives them just as much as fighting. They would have been eradicated centuries ago if it didn't."

"I'm just glad they're on our side for now." Eliarainne said. "You asked that I don't lead a team of my own while Izlude gets cleared out. Do you have something else in mind?"

Makaelthos nodded. "Not just you." He replied. "Agranias, Silmeia, Trenzein, Seihanine and Kreizen as well. We have our own task to accomplish."

Eliarainne banged her fists together in anticipation. She was reminded of the excursions she used to have with Makaelthos and the others back when she wasn't a knight commander. "Sounds good." She said. "What do you have in mind?"

"I'll explain once everyone gathers." Makaelthos replied. He stared at the looming walls of the Lord of Death's fortress. It was just a couple of miles away now. He felt as if something was ending but he couldn't point out what. There would be more to do even if they did destroy the Lord of Death. But he couldn't help but feel a sense of both dread and anticipation.

A few more minutes passed before everyone that Makaelthos had asked to gather had arrived.

"Another plan up your sleeve, Makaelthos?" Trenzein remarked. "You might as well be Grand Commander of the Regular Army at this rate!"

"Hush!" Seihanine suddenly hissed at Trenzein. "Don't say such things so openly!"

"Why not?" Trenzein argued. He dropped his voice when he noticed the sniper's serious look. "It's a backhanded compliment."

"It sounds like overreaching ambition to people who don't like him." Seihanine countered; her voice equally low. "Makaelthos has enough problems without ridiculously powerful high wizards declaring that he should be commanding the army."

"I am ready to assist in this plan." Agranias spoke up. He looked at the gathered companions and then suddenly felt like an outsider. These people have fought a lot of battles while working together. Even if they belonged to separate parts of the army, once they had gathered they were a single unit. He, on the other hand, had been with them for only a few months yet Sir Makaelthos had asked him to join them anyway. Whether it was merely because he knew the Lord of Death's army well and because he was a powerful abysmal knight, he wasn't sure.

"You have your humanity to reclaim and only a portion of it lies in your relationship with the high priestess. It's time you found the rest."

Agranias remembered Osiris's words clearly. These were his allies as well, not just Silmeia's companions. Sir Makaelthos would not let him in on a plan solely because he was strong. There was a measure of trust there. A trust that he was more than willing to answer.

"While the Regular Army spreads out to clear the city of raydrics, we're taking a route directly towards the Lord of Death's fortress."

"Makaelthos, the main road to that fortress is covered with barricades." Silmeia protested. "Even we will be hard-pressed to just storm through."

"Sounds fun." Eliarainne said with a grin. Kreizen's expression showed that he agreed completely. Silmeia turned to look at them sternly until they both looked sheepish.

"We're not just going to storm through but the main road is our target." Makaelthos said. "It's the fastest route to the fortress and the Lord of Death has its best troops stationed to guard it. That would be these "Boneguard", am I right, Agranias?"

"You are." Agranias replied. "The Boneguard were created to defend the innermost sanctums of the Glastheimian Church. They are the biggest and the most dangerous of the undead constructs."

Makaelthos unfolded the map that the Nightknife rogue had given to him earlier, showed it to his companions and pointed at the main road. "The Lord of Death has a great number of its forces by the main road; including the bulk of its Boneguard." He said. "Against that, we have two divisions of knights, wizards, hunters, priests and a large portion of our non-human allies to steadily grind forward.

Makaelthos then traced a portion of the map that had been helpfully highlighted with red ink. He didn't bother to check but he knew that his companions' eyes were also drawn to the crudely-drawn smiling face drawn next to the highlighted area with some notes about the area coming out of its mouth. 'Nykeia…' he thought disapprovingly. "My contacts have kept this passage here hidden from the raydric army." He said. "We will use it to get directly behind their forces and destroy them with a pincer attack. The only problem is that the passage is small. It wouldn't have been kept hidden otherwise. A small group is necessary to use it."

"So that's why you had us gathered." Kreizen said. "Let's get going then!"

"Get ready then." Makaelthos said. "Take the rest of the day to rest then we'll move out in the morning."

Everyone did as Makaelthos suggested. Silmeia and Trenzein went off for some time to rest and recover the energy they spent casting spells. Eliarainne went off with Kreizen for some weapons and armor inspection. She also had to make sure Bristle was taken care of while she was away. Makaelthos found himself alone with Seihanine; who was still looking at him. "Something on your mind, Seihanine?" he asked.

"Your "contact" has an interesting fashion sense." Seihanine said. "Black and purple armbands are very distinguishing."

"Nothing gets away from you doesn't it?" Makaelthos said.

"A lot of things actually do." Seihanine replied. She looked at Makaelthos carefully, although there was no suspicion in her stare like before, to Makaelthos's mild surprise. "I'm not like that ass, Ozlen. If orcs and kobolds can work with the Regular Army, I'm sure a gang of criminals can do their part against something that's a threat to them to."

"I'm glad to hear that from you, Seihanine." Makaelthos said. "I have to admit that I was expecting to do this mission with you constantly watching me."

"I might." Seihanine said. "Not to guard against you, though. You got a guild of criminals to blow up the gates and provide you with a detailed map to Izlude. You paid a price for all this help, Makaelthos. I hope you can handle it."

"I will." Makaelthos answered. "Thank you for believing in me, Seihanine."

With that, Seihanine walked away to tend to her division. Makaelthos proceeded towards the gatehouse where one of the rooms had been converted for him. Khaesilya was already there; patiently waiting for him by a small table. There were a pair of bowls on the table; small wisps of steam steadily rising from them.

"You look tired, Master Makaelthos."Khaesilya said as soon as he sat down.

"Not that much." Makaelthos replied. "The battle wasn't as desperate as the previous ones."

"I do not mean from just the fighting, master." Khaesilya insisted.

Makaelthos settled down by the table and let out a sigh while Khaesilya poured him a glass of water. "I can't do anything about that." He said. "And there's still so much to do."

Even with most of the fighting to the south of them, the people of Al de Baran lived in a constant state of apprehension ever since news of an attack on Prontera reached them. Not only was there the threat of an army of raydrics to their south, they also had to deal with a much closer threat to them; the clock tower at the center of their city.

The ominous structure had always towered silently over the citizen's of Al de Baran; keeping perfect time no matter how many years had passed. It had been around since the city was founded and had likely stood there when the elves of ancient times still occupied the city. The clock tower had always been a place of both mystery and danger. Before all the strange incidents involving immortals suddenly awakening, the clock tower was open for anyone to enter. Adventurers who visited Al de Baran tried their skills against the monstrous, mechanical monsters that lurked within the giant structure.

Nowadays, however, the clock tower was sealed tight. Several attempts had been made to enter it and see what was going on. The bodies of most of those who tried were simply hurled from the top most section of the tower to splatter on the street below. A few survivors managed to crawl out of the tower with tales of squads of alarms patrolling every hallway. The citizens of Al de Baran could only guess that the immortal Clock Tower Manager had gained sentience just like the other immortals of Rune-Midgard and had turned the tower into its fortress.

The citizens of Al de Baran were a stubborn lot, however. Instead of fleeing the city, they abandoned the homes near the clock tower and fortified the area around it. Newly constructed walls and towers surrounded the clock tower and guards were posted to watch for signs of activity. The citizens could only wait in apprehension; waiting for news of Prontera and guarding their city of the threat within.

It was this atmosphere of dread which made Nykeia Seryth's jaunty whistling stand out. She walked directly towards the clock tower; dragging a covered cart behind her. People skirted out of her way as she walked past. Most of them simply wanted to avoid the unnaturally happy person making her way towards a dangerous place. A few recognized who she was and practically bolted. As she approached the walls around the clock tower, one of the guardsmen stopped her.

"Pardon me, ma'am, but this place is too dangerous."

"You're so sweet for caring!" Nykeia replied. "But I'll be fine!"

The guard was about to protest when another guard arrived and pulled him aside. Nykeia walked on as the two of them talked in whispers. After the second guard had finished talking, the first one did not attempt to stop her. The nearby guards moved away and averted their eyes. Whatever the former guild mistress of "Time" and current Knife of the Night of Al de Baran had to do in the clock tower, they were better off not knowing.

The massive doors that led to the clock tower had remained shut for months but, as Nykeia approached, they opened silently. A pair of clockwork monstrosities appeared by the entrance. They resembled gigantic clocks that dwarfed even a tall human. A pair of fleshy, heavily-muscled arms stuck out of their sides while their faces were nothing more than empty masks that stared out ahead of them.

"Hey there!" Nykeia greeted them with a smile. "I'm done with my business in Prontera. I'm sure your boss would like a little chat with me."

The alarms made no attempt to respond to the greeting. They ushered Nykeia in and the stone doors closed behind her.