Andra rode back to her soldiers.
Darting across the hills. She could hear the thunder of the accursed Wizard’s magic before she saw it. But she was proud of her soldiers when she saw them holding their ground.
The Elf maiden and the Wizard were caught. Hiding like rats, the pair of them were behind a pile of rocks. Andra’s soldiers were too far back to capture them and each time they made a move forward a sharp crack cut the air and a bolt of lightning scorched the ground in front of them.
But the Wizard had nowhere else to run.
It wouldn’t take long to wear her down, even now the scorch marks were lighter than they had been. She was tiring. They had her.
After all these years of chasing Olwen down like a wild dog, Andra finally had the woman cornered and weak.
A dark memory flooded back into her mind. A hilltop battle at night, the flashes of light as the two women battled with their magic; Myrddym a trained Wizard with decades of experience and Olwen, a rogue mage who’d spent the best part of her young life hiding in the forest of Dragon March.
As strong as Olwen was, as determined and clever as she had been. They were no match.
Olwen had fallen.
Her bright blue eyes had stared unseeing at the sky and Andra could do nothing but mourn as the remorseless Dwarf left her to deal with the body of the woman she loved more than life itself.
But Andra smiled to herself.
Myrddym had not known what Olwen had discovered. Myrddym had not known of the ritual that was to be performed. That Olwen had already discovered a way to access the Dragon Realm. She had discovered a way to draw their power and intended to use it against the Wizards.
But Andra, along with a shamana, had used that power to bring Olwen back. To give her life once more.
Now Olwen was the strong one. Olwen was the one who ruled and it was Myrddym who stood cowering and weak.
Andra didn’t want to wait any longer. She wanted to see that woman dead, now.
“Forward!” she ordered.
She turned her horse and charged down the valley. Her loyal soldiers following right behind.
A peel of lightning struck the man riding next to her. He flew backwards slamming against the rock face of the gorge slid to the ground. The Wizard couldn’t take them all.
But suddenly her horse reared.
It took all her strength and skill to stay on.
She cursed the beast for stopping the charge, she was vulnerable to the Wizard’s attack. Her soldiers drew alongside her looking to her for a lead. And in a rage, she tried to turn her horse back to the enemy and order an advance.
But her anger immediately turned to shock.
Something was coming.
Her horse moaned and pined, backing off. Rocks slid down the gorge, dry grasses shuffled, a low grinding hollow noise echoed around the stone walls of the valley.
One of the riders struggled to control her horse and it darted from the valley.
“Deepers!” shouted one of the men.
Andra went to silence him, to curse him for his unfounded fear. But it was too late.
The creatures had emerged as if from the rocks themselves.
First dozens, then scores of creatures.
Each one no bigger than a child, their heads large and round, their skin so pale it was almost translucent. Some wore bright bronze armour but many wore furs and leathers. Their limbs were long and strong and although the Wizard shot at them with her staff, they scattered, running on all fours like hares darting from a dog.
Andra’s order to advance never came.
She didn’t stop the soldiers darting from the battlefield and watched in fascinated horror as the dwarf and her companion were swallowed by the swarm by the Deep Worlders.
Striking the creatures down left and right, the pair were drowned by sheer numbers. As the creatures turned their attention to Andra, she kicked a few away, her horse reared and she joined the others in their retreat.
Glancing back toward the screams, she saw the elf maiden dragged across the valley floor, disarmed she was pulled underground, and her face disappeared under the dirt.
“Back!” Andra called to her soldiers, “To high-ground.” There was no hesitation. The swarm of Deep Worlders gave chase and despite the horse’s speed one was grabbed and pulled down.
Andra heard her soldier scream as she was grabbed. She fought valiantly, and after just a moments hesitation, Andra drew her sword, beating of the foul swarm she found the arm of her soldier, and pulled her, beaten and bruised from the horde.
It was a long hard ride before Andra decided they were far enough from danger to stop.
Andra shook her head, breathing hard, and looked over her soldiers as she weighed up a second assault on the gorge.
They had lost a horse and two of her soldiers had fallen. The ones who remained where tired and afraid. She didn’t know if she could command their loyalty, and she didn’t know what she would do even if she could persuade them back.
Would they enter the Deep World? Go into the caves after those creatures in search of the Wizard and her companion?
She shook her head. There was nothing to be gained by going after the Wizard and the Elf now. They were as good as dead.
She looked over the last of her squadron. “Let’s go home,” she said.