Chapter 39 - Regret
"Arcfire!" Robin shouted, catching on Invisible Soldier with a blast of conjured flame. The phantom reeled back, mouth opening in a silent scream as the flames consumed it, leaving nothing but ashes in its wake that evaporated away before his eyes.
Steel flashed through the falling embers as another Invisible Soldier threw itself at Robin. There was a clang of clashing metal as a blade intercepted, Lucina stepping between them as she parried the blow. The phantom reeled back, but instead of pressing the attack, Lucina instead darted to the side, spinning to face another two foes coming at their flank.
"Thoron!" A bolt of lightning split the space between them, shooting past Lucina as she moved out of the way and caught the still off balance phantom, obliterating it in a brilliant flash of light.
Yet more foes came, their number seemingly endless.
"Where did they come from? We should have had some warning with this many," Lucina said, falling back onto the defensive as she was forced to contend with several phantoms at once.
Anankos must have hidden their presence somehow. At least beyond the extent they usually are, Robin guessed, scowling.
The attack had fallen swiftly and without warning. One moment the two of them had been preparing to go search for Morgan, the next, they were fighting for their lives. Worse still, the whole camp was in disarray, pockets of disorganized fighting breaking out wherever each member of their group had been caught when the assault had begun.
"We need to fall back and regroup! Find Corrin and we can organize some sort of defense!" Robin shouted. He made a slashing motion with his hand, the crescent blade of an elwind spell tossing a group of soldiers crashing into a trampled tent and tangling them among it's wreckage.
"What about Morgan? She may not know what is happening! Or worse, has been caught alone while separated and cut off from aid!" Lucina asked.
"I-" Robin's words were cut short as he narrowly avoided a cut from an axe wielding phantom. He dodged another sweeping blow, countering with a slash of his own. He spun to the next foe, raising his sword to meet the Invisible Soldier's charge.
Electricity burst around the phantom that had leapt at Robin, the ghostly figure spasming as the sparks danced across it's form. A blade flashed as Marc lunged into view, cutting down the Invisible Soldier he'd stunned in a single stroke. Stepping forward, Marc met the next soldier, parried a strike, then dropped him with a swift counter blow before turning back to regard them.
"Don't worry father! I'll link up with Lord Corrin and the others. You two find Morgan!" Marc shouted, intercepting a group of Invisible Soldiers who'd attempted to close the gap between them and Robin.
"Are you certain?" Lucina asked, concern evident in her voice as she glanced worriedly at their son.
Sending the nearest soldier sprawling with a swift succession of cuts, Marc looked back at them. Despite his gaze being hidden behind Lucina's butterfly mask, Robin could tell he regarded both Lucina and himself as he grinned and gave them a thumbs up. "Don't worry. I may not be the tactician you and Morgan are, but I can manage well enough. Just make sure Morgan is safe, please!"
"We will," Robin assured him. He placed a hand on Lucina's shoulder, urging her to go.
"Be safe as well. We are counting on you," Lucina told Marc. Then the two of them turned away, hurrying off as fast as they were able.
With Marc covering their escape, the two of them made a beeline for the woods in the direction Morgan had gone. Robin cleared the way before them, unleashing a bolt of lightning that annihilated a single phantom that tried to block their way and sent up a cloud of dust that hid them from nearby archers.
Just as they reached the lip of the slope they'd spoken to Morgan on but minutes earlier, the two skidded to a stop, a group of Invisible Soldiers clad in heavy metal armor intercepting them. Their crimson eyes burned with hate as they brandished their weapons. Around them, Robin glimpsed movement in the corner of his eyes, knowing that more of the phantoms would be soon closing in.
Dammit, they couldn't afford a drawn out battle now. They need to end this fast, lest they become tied up in the fighting once more.
Just then a shimmering bolt of light zoomed past one of the soldiers, bursting on the ground in a shower of blue sparks. While doing no harm, this got the phantoms' attention and just in time for the second magic wreathed arrow to strike the lead Invisible Soldier square in the chest. The Invisible Soldier was blown back, violet smoke billowing from the gaping hole in it's chest.
In that instant, Inigo entered the fray, curved sword dancing around one of the phantom's defenses to deliver a chain of sweeping cuts that dropped the ghostly figure before it could so much as counter. He met the next foe head on, only at the last moment to dart to the side, deflecting the blow as he whirled fluidly around behind the Invisible Soldier with a single strike to the back.
The final phantom lifted his own sword to strike at Inigo while his attention was elsewhere, only to be knocked back as Soleil barreled into it, throwing it off balance as she threw the weight of her shoulder into its chest. As it staggered she landed, pivoted, and brought her sword across in a wide slash that bisected the phantom from shoulder to hip. It fell in two pieces, evaporating into smoke.
"I meant to do that, by the way. The first shot was totally a distraction," Soleil told them, grinning as she turned to look at them. It took a moment for Robin to realize she was referring to the first arrow, of which he was now even more certain had not been planned to miss.
"What's going on? Do we have a plan?" Inigo asked, making a point to ignore his daughter's grandstanding as he looked to Robin.
"Go join the defense with Corrin and Marc, we're going to find Morgan," Robin told him quickly, turning to go.
"Wait, what? What happened to Mother? Where is she?" Soleil demanded, looking visibly alarmed. Inigo too looked worried, the slight smile he'd worn turning to a frown in an instant.
"She ran off right before the attack began! We're going to search for her," Lucina explained.
Soleil and Inigo exchanged quick looks. Inigo nodded reassuringly, then the two turned back to them. "Then we're coming with you. Better to have two more pairs of eyes," Inigo told them.
"Yeah, no way we're just going to stand by. Whether Mother likes it or not, we care about her," Soleil added, gripping the hilt of her sword tighter as her expression grew uncharacteristically serious.
"Are you certain?" Lucina asked, looking to Inigo, the unspoken question plain for all to see.
For a moment Inigo hesitated, then he nodded solemnly. "Yes. I'm sure."
"Let's hurry then. If you're going to help, we won't stop you," Robin told them, motioning for them to follow. "And thank you."
With that the four set off into the treeline, Robin leading the way in the direction Morgan had gone. Several Invisible Soldier materialized to bar their way, only to be swiftly cut down by the four. Soon, even their foes stopped appearing, leaving them alone in the all too quiet woods. The tree canopy cast dark shadows, made longer by the high peaks of the mountains and dim light of the setting sun. It was utterly still, betraying the chaos of the fighting they'd left behind.
Lucina slowed suddenly, pausing as she turned her gaze upward. "Wait. Do you smell that?"
The others stopped, turning to look at her.
"Smoke," Inigo said, his brow furrowing.
"How can you tell? I don't smell anything," Soleil asked.
"Being able to pick up things like that could mean the difference between life and death in our future," he explained, tilting his head towards Lucina.
Robin frowned, peering intently into the gloom. The fading sunlight was making it more difficult to see, but maybe…
"There, the haze looks thicker that way. Come on," Robin said, pointing in the direction where the thin mist seemed more opaque. Darker.
Sure enough, the scent of smoke grew more intense as they ran, so that within moments even Robin smelled it. Then it became overpowering, as the odor was joined by the crackling of distant flames and glowing embers. The smoke grew thicker, forcing Robin to cover his mouth with his sleeve. Panic had set in, fearing for Morgan's safety.
Clearing a line of trees, they four skidded to a stop as they were met with a raging inferno. Embers rained down as smoke rose in massive pillars that blanketed the scene.
"Hold… on…" Robin coughed, reaching for a pocket of his coat and pulling forth a blue and white tome he'd taken from the armory. "Fimbulvetr!" A vortex of frigid air and frost crashed down on the flames. There was a hiss as the ice was immediately turned to steam, blanketing the space before them in a billowing cloud of white. When the haze cleared, only a few small isolated fires remained among the carpet of embers still casting a faint glow.
"Morgan must have been here," Lucina realized, turning to him. "I do not believe our enemies would simply set fire to this one spot otherwise."
"Yeah, though I don't think they were responsible. Look." Robin pointed out globs of still glowing stone that seemed to have recently been molten before hardening into solid once more. "That's from a Bolganone spell, which as far as I know isn't common in this world. It was probably Morgan's doing then."
"But there's no sign of her here now. Nor the enemies she was clearly fighting. Do you think she was forced to flee and they gave chase?" Inigo asked.
"I do not doubt that is what occurred. But that does little to help us locate her," Lucina said, worry apparent on her face. "If anything, it shows just how dire her plight may be that she acted in such a reckless manner."
Or it illustrates the kind of mental state she's in. She just as easily could have lashed out in anger, taking the chance to vent it all on her foes without thinking of the consequences, Robin thought to himself.
"We need to split up, try to cover more ground!" Soleil suggested. "I mean, that's the plan right?" She asked, looking to Robin expectantly.
"I…" He paused, considering this for a split second than nodded. "Normally, it would be foolish not to stick together with so many foes around. But time is not on our side. Go. If you find Morgan, tell her to create a flare, assuming she hasn't already," Robin instructed.
"You can count on me!" Soleil said, waving a hand in a mock salute before turning and sprinting off.
"Just be careful," Inigo said as his daughter vanished from view. He turned, about to start off in another direction as well, only to be stopped as Lucina lifted a hand.
"Inigo," she said, her voice gentle despite the urgentness of the situation. "Even if Morgan can't admit it to herself, I believe she still cares for you. Don't give up on her just yet."
"I…" Inigo trailed off, seemling caught off guard by this admission. "I… I understand. Thank you." Nodding his head in thanks, he too set off into the forest.
"Now we just need to help Morgan see that," Robin noted, letting a hand brush over Lucina's arms as he stepped past. He smiled at her. "But first, we need to move as well. Be safe."
"And you as well," Lucina replied, flashing her own uncertain smile. Then the two set off each on their own, beginning their own search in ernest.
. . . . .
An Invisible Soldier fell, pierced by the extended lance-like protrusion of Corrin's transformed arm. Pulling his arm back, Corrin grimaced as he felt the muscles in his arm twist and crawl as they changed shape again, forming into a clawed hand. He parried a blow from another soldier, clocking their weapon wide against Yato's flat before tearing out the phantom's throat with a brutal slash of his claws.
They just keep coming. We need a plan! He spun around, searching wildly. Where is Robin? If anyone can figure a way out of this, it'd be him. Maybe I can think of something and-
Corrin grimaced, shaking his head. No. Anything I come up with is bound to fail. Better it be someone who isn't me.
"Lord Corrin!" a voice shouted.
Corrin turned just in time to see Marc rushing towards him, sword in hand. Even as he watched Marc threw himself into a roll, passing under a thrust of a phantom's lance. Coming to his feet, the boy turned, slashed through the Invisible Soldier's spine, then completed the motion with his hand extended as he launched three spears of lightning that flew like knives and embedded themselves in the chests of the remaining Invisible Soldiers who'd moved to bar his way. The trio all grasped as the crackling spikes, dropping to their knees before bursting into clouds of smoke.
Then Marc cross the remaining distance, panting slightly as he came to a stop before Morgan.
"Marc, do you know where your father is?" Corrin asked, speaking quickly. He brought Yato across in a wide arc, cleaving through the two nearest Invisible Soldiers who'd closed in from the opposite direction.
"So, don't freak out, but he's kinda… busy with other things right now?", Marc askered hesitantly, shooting a blast of fire at a charging foe as he spoke,
Corrin just stopped there for a moment, blinking in dumbfounded surprise. "What? I… what could he possibly-" Before he could finish the thought he caught movement in his peripheral vision, whirling around to cleave through the Invisible Soldier who'd attempted to flank him.
"Morgan ran off, right before the attack started. I think mother and father tried to talk to her and it didn't go well. ...Actually, that's a lie. I kinda sort-ish was spying on them the whole time," Marc admitted. Then he shook his head wildly, giving himself a light slap across the cheek. "No, bad Marc. Not important right now! Point in they went to go look for her, so I'm here in their stead."
Corrin glanced back to Marc, trying to process all this information even as he continued to struggle against the seemingly endless tides of foes. He frowned, despite himself feeling more than a bit guilty. He'd been the one to try to push Robin to confront Morgan. If he hadn't, Morgan wouldn't have run off. If he hadn't, then Robin's full attention could be spent here. Instead his advice has just put his friend and everyone else into more danger.
Just another bad decision.
"Corrin, snap out of it. I know what you are thinking, and it's not your fault," Marc told him sharply. "Trust me, I know from experience how easy it is to do that. But now is not the time. And besides…" Marc trailed off, taking a long, steady breath, before hooking his thumb back to point at his chest. "I may not be the equal of my father or even my sister, but I'm still a tactician. So you have me."
As if to illustrate his point, Marc spun in place, Falchion erupting into white flames as he cut down two foes with complete efficiency. Even as they fell he extended a hand, conjuring a vortex of wind to scatter a hail of arrows sent their way before sending the cyclone barreling into the archers, throwing them like ragdolls across the battlefield. Then he turned back to Corrin. "So are you with me or not?"
"I…" Corrin furrowed his brow, trying to work up his courage. No, Marc was right. This wasn't his fault. He knew that. Maybe… maybe the two of them could do this. Somehow, seeing Marc, someone too burdened by his own choices managed to take charge like this despite all of that...
"Alright, so what do we do?" Corrin asked, half turning so now he and Marc stood back to back. Yato erupted into crimson light, joining the radiant shimmer of Falchion as the two met the next wave as it crashed into them.
"We need to roundup the others. After that we form a perimeter, hold them off for as long as we can," Marc said, cutting down another phantom. "Do we know if there's a water source nearby they could have come from? The next step after will depend on if they have somewhere nearby to draw reinforcements from."
Corrin frowned, wracking his mind. He shook his head. "I don't know. Your sister was supposed to get water for camp, but I think that was just a stream." Corrin closed his eyes, his back tingling as he sprouted wings. "Cover me! I'll see what I can find!"
Marc noted, raising a hand as lightning danced at his fingertips. "Arcthunder!" Lightning split and forked as it lanced from his hand, bombarding a wide swath of the Invisible Soldier's lines. Dust burst in great plumes with each impact, blanketing the battlefield. Corrin saw Marc's face twist into a grimace, the strain of pushing the spell to its extreme limits taking its toll.
Corrin leapt with all of his strength, sailing high over the battlefield. A few arrows whizzed past, some far too close for comfort, but with just a few flaps of his wings he was beyond the range of their bows. Flapping slower now, he hovered there, searching around for the glimmer of a body of water. He spied the faint shimmering line of the stream and… nothing. No lake. No dammed river. Nothing.
Tucking into a dive he shot back towards the ground. He unfurled his wings at the last moment, catching the air to slow his decent. More dust was kicked up as he touched down, his wings evaporating into motes of light. "No," he told Marc. "There's nothing nearby I can see."
"Which means they must have gotten here on foot and stayed hidden long enough to mass the numbers we see now," Marc said. "Which means they do have finite resources. So as long as we can hold out…"
"...then we can whittle them down and win this battle through attrition," Corrin finished for him. He furrowed his brow, eyes narrowed as he drew on what resolve he could muster. Alright, Corrin. Now is not the time to give in or cower. Now it the time to live up to the faith everyone has places in you.
"With me. We need to reach the others!" Corrin said.
With that the two of them set off camp, Yato and Falchion burning with ethereal light as they cut through any foe who dared stand in their way. For together with two divine blades, none could hope to stand against them. Swiftly they sought out each of the others, gathering them near the wreckage that had been the mess tent. Tables and chairs were overturned, forming makeshift barricades to funnel the Invisible Soldiers into choke points to mitigate their advantage when it came to sheer numbers.
"Is everyone alright?" Corrin asked at last, now that everyone was gathered. "Is that everyone?" he asked, looking around as he tried to do a quick headcount. In his haste to gather everyone they could find, he hadn't really taken the time to keep track of who'd they'd rallied to follow them.
"Besides my parents and my sister," Marc quickly added. "Morgan wasn't in camp when the fighting started. Long story, she ran off. My father and mother went to find her."
There was a murmur in the small crowd, even as most of them were already locked in combat while the next wave of invisible Soldiers closed in around their makeshift fortifications. But if they had any concerns everyone seemed to quickly put them aside, focusing on the far more pressing matters.
"Wait, what about Soleil and Inigo? Why aren't they here?" Elise asked, looking around. "I don't see them anywhere here."
Corrin glanced around as well, confirming what Elise had said was correct. Dammit! Where could they be? We didn't see them anywhere in camp. Corrin bit his lip, mind racing as he frantically wracked his brain for something they could do. Had they been away too? Or had something happened to them?
Just before panic could set in, Kaze stepped forward, clearing his throat. "I think I saw them with Robin and Lucina, right before they entered the forest," Kaze said. "Since you said those two were searching for Morgan, perhaps Inigo and Soleil decided to assist as well."
Corrin sighed, thoroughly relieved by this answer. Good, they're safe too… Or about as safe as they could be in this damned situation.
"They went there alone?!" Elise cried out. "With all these Invisible Soldiers running around, what if they get hurt?"
"Calm down, Elise," Corrin said in an attempt to diffuse the situation. "Robin is there, and he will likely have a strategy to make sure everything is-"
"B-but what if…" Sakura's voice interrupting him caught him off guard. "Um… I…"
"Sakura, what is it?" Elise asked, going up to the youngest Hoshidan princess, taking hold of her hand, as if to reassure her.
"What if s-something happened?" Sakura finished asking, her voice stronger now. "Morgan went out there a-alone. What if she's hurt? R-Robin might be s-smart, but, um… he doesn't know what happened to her exactly. If she's hurt, we should go c-check, r-right?"
Marc looked like he was about to say something, perhaps argue that they stay put. Yet he did nothing. Despite the mask he worse, Corrin could see the concern painted across his features. He was just as worried as Sakura was, if not more so.
Corrin looked to Sakura, then to Marc, considering their plight. He knew how worried then must be about Morgan: Marc for his sister, and Sakura for her friend. Could he really expect them to just wait here and not try to help them as well? If it has been a member of his family, after all, would he knew he would have never stood by and waited while others went to their aid in his stead.
"Alright," he nodded. "As soon as we see an opening, we make a break for it and join up with your parents in finding Morgan."
For a moment both Marc and Sakura seemed surprised by this answer. Then Sakura bowed, "T-Thank you s-so much. I… I couldn't bear… d-doing nothing."
Marc nodded in thanks as well.
Corrin couldn't help but smile. If only ever so slightly. They would be taking a risk doing this. He knew that. But still, it was the right thing to do. They couldn't abandon a friend to their fate, not when they too could provide aid just as well as those already searching for her.
Now they just needed to find that opening.
. . . . .
Morgan sprinted through the woods, ducking under a low hanging branch. The footsteps behind her grew louder, the pace quickening as her pursuers closed in.
"Elfire!" Whirling on the spot she conjured a column of fire and engulfed the nearest Invisible Soldier. She didn't wait to see if it died or not, already falling back into a full run the instant she'd completed her spell.
She gasped for air, her heart racing faster and faster with each moment she ran as panic set in. She didn't know where she was, having long since lost her sense of direction in the confusion of fleeing her pursers. She didn't know if she was running towards camp, or further away.
She was alone. Trapped. Without any hope for rescue.
No! Stop! Don't panic, don't panic! You can think your way out of this Morgan. Yes, think! Maybe you can-
The thought was cut short as the space before her simmered, a trio of Invisible Soldiers flickering into existence. She leapt back, narrowly avoiding a slash aimed at her shoulder, then rolled to the side to avoid a blow from an axe. Thrusting out her hand, she caught the lead phantom with a gout of flame that sent it writhing on the forest floor. She made a sweeping motion, conjuring a blast of wind that threw the remaining two off balance, allowing her to charge past.
Dammit, there were so many! Morgan screamed inwardly, fresh panic gripping her. She gritted her teeth, desperately trying to think of some way, anyway, out of this situation. She gripped the hilt of her rapier tighter as she ran, preparing to draw it at a moment's notice.
Movement flashed before her eyes. She threw herself down, narrowly passing under a strike aimed for her neck by a phantom that had lunged out from behind a tree. Scrambling on all fours, she regained her footing, her sword clearing it's sheath just in time to deflect the next strike, then a third. On the fourth she darted to the side, scoring a cut as she slipped through the phantom's guard and then delivered a thrust to finish it off.
Yet she had no time to celebrate as her remaining pursuers reached her then. She parried a blow, then leapt back to avoid another. The sweeping axe clipped her on the shoulder, delivering enough force to send her staggering to her side. When she brought a hand to the burning spot her hand came away red.
Morgan ducked, the axe coming back around and embedding itself into a tree behind her in the very spot her head had been a moment before. She lunged forward, driving her rapier and her full weight into the Invisible Soldier. The impact sent them both to the ground, Morgan stabbing repeatedly until it vanished into smoke.
A hand seized her injured shoulder, pain lancing through it as she was yanked back and slammed forcefully into a tree. The air was forced from her lungs, and burst of light filled her vision. She caught a glimpse of glinting metal as the soldier raised it's weapon, preparing to deliver a killing blow on the dazed Morgan.
A burst of fire caught it in the face, the shock loosening its grip enough for Morgan to shove it off of her. She was acting on instinct now, unleashing a blast of wind that flattened another phantom. Then the pommel of a blade struck her across the face, stars flashing again as she was driven to the ground. Gasping in pain, she grasped for her sword. Her vision blurred, her ears ringing as she couldn't focus.
Then she heard a shout and steel ringining. One of the phantoms fell next to her, it's head landing further away, before it and the body burst into inky vapor before her eyes. The next met the new arrival in an exchange of rapid blow, before finally it too was cut down.
For a moment everything was perfectly still. Then hurried footsteps followed, Morgan blinking through her blurred vision as her rescuer quickly approached
Shaking her head to clear it, Morgan scrambled to regain her footing, turning to face the one who'd saved her and-
She stopped dead in her tracks and for that brief moment she found herself unable to process how to react to who it was that had come to her rescue. Then anger flashed, her vision turning red as she shoved her so called savior, Inigo, back. He staggered, completely caught off guard by Morgan's violent outburst, having to brace himself against the tree lest he crash to the forest floor behind them. Morgan merely huffed, turning away from him as he looked on with an expression of shocked mired in disappointment.
"Great. It just had to be you, huh? Literally no one else could come? Really?" Morgan grumbled, stomping away from him.
"Morgan…" A weary sigh filled Inigo's voice as he righted himself. "Is now really the time? We need to get back to the others, before more of them-"
"Oh, you'd like that wouldn't you? Get to play hero and all that?" Morgan scoffed, a bitter laugh falling from her throat. "I bet you thought I'd be so greatful I'd even forgive you after all this. That was your plan, right?"
"Morgan, I'm being serious. We need to go now. There's still more of them! If you'd just listen and come with me, we can-" Inigo started to argue, moving after her.
There was a crunch as something moved to their left. Morgan spun raising her sword just in time to deflect a blow aimed at her skull. She staggered, her arm going numb from the jarring impact. She lifted her free hand just in time as the phantom readied it's axe for a second strike.
"Elwind!" The crescent blade of wind caught the phantom in the chest, throwing it back. Yet even then Morgan had scarcely a moment to catch her breath as more Invisible Soldiers leapt from the shadows, weapons bared.
The next moments were a blur of flashing steel and frantic, desperate struggle. Foe after foe came at them, driven by some new fury. Yet somehow the two of them barely managed to hang on, withstanding the onslaught even as they were driven back.
"Morgan! We need to get help! Send up a flare, some of the others are nearby, they can-"
"I don't need your help! I told you!" Morgan hissed, battering away another phantom.
"Then humor me and call for help from someone who isn't me!" Inigo countered.
"Fine!" Morgan shouted. Unleashing a wide wave of flame to force her opponents to retreat back, Morgan seized the opening and launched a streaking line of light into the sky, detonating in a shimmering shower of prismatic brilliance. "There! Happy?"
"Yes! Now come on! We can- Dammit!" Inigo swore, grabbing Morgan by the arm and pulling them both into cover as arrows pummeled the spot they'd stood. Morgan threw him off of her, shooting him a withering look of utter contempt.
Rising to her feet, she retaliated against the archers with a Arcthunder spell, the bolt of lighting splitting into several that bombarded the woods behind the main group of phantoms.
Then once more the Invisible Soldiers crashed into them, thrusting them back into the hectic melee before they had so much as a chance to even think of withdrawing to safety.
"We need an opening!" Inigo shouted. "Can you cover our escape?"
"I know what I'm doing! I don't need you telling me what to do!" Morgan spat. Leaping a step back, she squeezed her eyes shut, reaching deep into the well of power within her. "Elwind!" Three crescent blades stuck the nearest tree, slicing into the base of the trunk. The tree groaned, swayed, then with the sound of splintering wood, began to topple,
"Bolganone! And Arcwind," Morgan proclaimed. Molten earth erupted just behind the fallen tree before it could hit the ground. An instant later a vortex of wind slammed into the volcanic fountain, propelling into the trunk. The tree exploded, the water inside turned to steam as it was ignited. Burning shards of wood and globs of molten rock were propelled in a cone by the wind vortex, shredding the mass of Invisible Soldiers caught in its wake. Smoke filled the space as the underbrush and other nearby trees caught fire.
"See! Told you!" Morgan said, laughing at the results of her triumph.
"Morgan, come on, this way!" Inigo shouted at her, grabbing her by the arm to pull her away from the fight.
Crimson flashed again and Morgan ripped herself free from the dancer's grip. "Will you get off of me! I can handle myself!" Morgan spat.
"I'm trying to help you! We need to get out of here!" Inigo argued.
"I don't need your help!" Morgan screamed, her rage boiling over. She lifted a hand, nearly about to strike him, only to be interrupted by a sudden rush of movement as a trio of Invisible Soldiers launched themselves at them. Both she and Inigo leapt back, narrowly avoiding the sweeping cut of the lead phantom's sword. "Bolganone!"
Morgan bellowed obliterating two of the soldiers in a raining geyser of molten earth. The third managed to avoid the worst if the spell, it's form smoldering as it came out of a roll and charged again. Inigo met it's strike, parried, and then countered, taking down the phantom with a well placed strike.
An arrow whistled past, sticking into a tree next to Morgan's hand with a dull thunk. Her eyes shot wide and she ducked, darting back around the trunk as more arrows struck the spot. Conjuring a flaming sphere in her hands, she darted into the open, launching the spell in the direction the arrows had come before taking cover once more. The woods erupted with fire, engulfing the phantom archers and leaving nothing but ash.
"I told you I don't need help!" Morgan interrupted. With a snarl, she unleashed another spell, a gust of wind catching a phantom and ragdolling it against a tree. Yet despite the force of the impact the Invisible Soldier yet rose to its feet, preparing to launch itself into a counter.
"Please, I'm begging you. Just listen. We need to-" Inigo pleaded.
"I! Dont! Need! Your! Help!" Morgan screaming, punctuating each word with a blast of flame that engulfed the phantom again and again. The bark of the tree behind blackened and peeled away, the phantom whithering away into ashes beneath the assault.
"There! See! I can do this myself! Get it? I…" Morgan clutched a hand to her temples, swaying on her feet. The world seemed to spin beneath her, the world blurring in and out of focus, feeling the strain of her rapid spellcasting. Had she overdone it? No! She was fine! She didn't need help! She was fine alone! She didn't need-
"Morgan! Get down!" Inigo said, throwing his weight against her. There was a blinding flash of light, a bolt of lightning striking the ground between them. The two of them were thrown through the air, Morgan's world exploding in pain as she landed in a crumpled heap. For what felt like an eternity she lay there, agony having replaced all sensation. Then a voice screamed at the back of her mind, urging her to get up. Get up or you'll die!
Morgan gasped, the world lurching back into focus. She lifted her head, her eyes first falling on where Inigo lay across from her. The dancer was on the ground, weakly grasping for his fallen sword as smoke curled from his smoldering clothes. He must have taken the worst of the spell, Morgan having been spared from the brunt of it thanks to his actions in pushing her away.
Dammit! That big stupid jerk! Why did he do that? He should have been worried about himself! Now he-
A crackling sound filled the air. Morgan turned, eyes falling on the phantom spellcaster before them. Dark, violet electricity danced around it's hands, preparing another spell aimed at Morgan. Behind it emerged three more Invisible Soldiers, their weapons glinting in the fell light cast by the sorcerer's spell.
Morgan tried to push herself upright, only to find her body refused to obey her commands. She couldn't coax her aching muscles into motion, her strength giving out.
A laugh echoed around them. The electricity grew in intensity, the phantom preparing to launch his spell at the helpless tactician.
"Stay away from her!"
There was a blinding flash and another ear splitting roar. The forest behind Morgan exploded, the spell having gone wide, sailing past her and striking a tree a safe distance behind.
Morgan stared in shock as the sorcerer reeled back, smoke curling from a gash across it's chest. Before the phantom stood Inigo, his face twisted with anger and pain as he brought his sword around for another strike. The enemy spellcaster raised a hand at the last second, conjuring a disk of shimmering light to block the strike. Cracks spiderwebbed across the magical shield from the force of Inigo's blow, the dancer's sword bouncing off as the recoil tore his arm back.
With a shout, Inigo dug in his heel, gripping his blade with both hands as he struck the shield again. The disk shattered with a crystalline sound like breaking glass, Inigo's sword burying itself into the shoulder of the phantom.
For a moment Morgan saw the Phantom's smoldering eyes go wide with shock. Then, the ghostly figured snarled, conjuring a burst of electricity at its fingertips. Before Inigo could react the sorcerer unleashed his spell at their feet, catching them both with the full force of the blast. Inigo was thrown back like a child's plaything, slamming into a tree with audible crunch. He crumpled, laying their motionless. The phantom too was tossed to the ground, evaporating into nothingness until only wisps of inky smoke remained.
"Inigo!" Morgan screamed, his name leaving her throat before she even knew what she was doing.
She watched as the dancer slowly lifted he head, his eyes half-glazed over as his head lolled, dazed from the impact. He stabbed the tip of his sword into the earth, trying to use it as leverage to pull himself upright. He managed to get to one knee before he hand suddenly slipped and he toppled to one side, clutching at his side as he groaned with pain.
The remaining three Invisible Soldiers charged, having managed to close the remaining distance. Their blades flashed as they bared down on the helpless Inigo.
It all happened on a single instant. Before she knew what she was doing, Morgan found herself suddenly on her feet, weapon in hand. In a blink of an eye she had darted forward, sword flashing as it intercepted the blow aimed for Inigo. With frantic strength she knocked the blade wide, tearing her own blade back across in furious swipes that sent the Invisible Soldier to the ground. But even as it fell the remaining soldiers were on her them, their own blades glinting with the fell light of their phantom flames. Once, twice, three times she parried the incoming strikes with increasingly panicked swings. With her free hand she launched a sphere of electricity, stunning one of the soldiers for the split second she needed to drop it with a thrust to the throat.
The blades of her two remaining foes fell. She parried one strike, then yelped as the other's weapon managed to slip though her guard, drawing a deep line of red down the inside of her arm, With a shout she managed to thrust out a hand, engulfing the Invisible Soldier in a withering wave of flames even as she spun to face the other, their weapons meeting in a final, powerful clash.
Steel rang, the sound as clear as that of a bell as it carried out over the battlefield. Morgan fell back, her blade spinning from her grasp to stick in the dirt out of her reach. She landed on her back, nearly on top of the wounded and dazed Inigo. She watched as the invisible Soldier leapt for them, the point of the sword seeming to ignite with violet flames. Morgan knew she couldn't prepare a spell in time to defend herself, and to dodge now would mean condemning Inigo to death in her place. She shut her eyes, lifting her arms in a last futile gesture to defend herself. For an instant the world seemed to fall silent, Morgan hearing nothing but the beating of her own heart.
There was a rush of movement, footstepped hammering as a shout split the silence. "No!"
The was a wet squelching thud, barely perceptible among to still. Morgan felt droplets of something hot and wet splash again her face, followed by a pained gasp, like the air being forced from someone's lungs.
Morgan opened her eyes, her mouth falling open as a silent 'no' fell from her lips.
Soleil stood between her and the Invisible Soldiers, the phantom's blade skewered straight through her midsection. Blood welled from the ghastly wound, soaking her gambeson in an a slowly expanding splotch of blood.
"No… you… don't…" Soleil coughed, small droplets of blood welling up at the corners of her mouth. She gripped the phantom's blade by the hilt, preventing him from tearing it free. With a shout she brought her own sword down, the curved blade erupting with shimmering golden light. There was a flash of radiant brilliance, engulfing both her and the soldier for a single instant. Than when it cleared the Invisible Soldier fell, tearing it's blade free as it went as Soleil too staggered back. Motes of golden lights seemed to flow from the now dissipating soldier, drifting towards Soleil to suffuse her body in a single instant before they too faded.
"See… that's what… you...get...trying to...hurt… hurt my… my…" Soleil wavered on her feet, her eyelids drooping. She coughed, blood dripping down her chin. Then, swaying a single step, she toppled to her side, falling to the dirt with a muted thud.
"Soleil!" Inigo's voice cried out, the dancer having regained his senses just in time to witness what transpired. He shoved past Morgan, his own injuries forgotten as he rushed to Soleil's side. Morgan could do nothing but look on helplessly, her entire body feeling numb.
"Hold on, please, just hold on," Inigo gasped, ripping off strips of his tunic as he tried to bind and put pressure on the wound. "Morgan! Help! Do something, we need to-" he demanded, half turning Morgan's way to shoot a frantic, pleading look.
Inigo froze as Soleil coughed again, her hand shooting up to grip him by the wrist. Her eyelids fluttered open weakly. "Father? I… I did it… I saved you… saved you and… mother… You...you're okay… you and mom get… get… to be… happy...together…"
Her grip seemed to visibly weaken, her eyelids beginning to droop once more.
"I know, you did great… just… please, don't move. Save your strength. Help is on the way, just hang on," Inigo pleaded. He smiled weakly, visibly struggling to put on a brave face.
Morgan could only stare on, frozen in place. Her face felt wet and it took a moment to realize she was crying.
"I bet… I looked… awesome… saving you… both… " Soleil smiled, her gaze falling on Morgan's face. Her smile deepened. Then her eyelids fell shut, her hand slipping away limply.
Inigo called out for her, his voice cracking as his pleads became ever more desperate.
Morgan just stared helplessly, feeling everything around her grow cold. She felt her heart shatter in her chest. A wrenching scream tore from her throat, followed by choking sobs that wracked her entire body.
This… it's my fault. Gods… it's all my fault!
Morgan wailed, falling forward to pound her fits into the dirt, until her knuckles began to bleed. It should have been me! I should be the one lying there! Frantically she scrambled forward, reaching Soleil's side. She tore off her coat, balling it up as pressed it down onto her daughter's midsection, trying to help staunch the bleeding. With her free hand she felt for Soleil's pulse, but between her own trembling hands and the numbness she felt, she couldn't tell. She couldn't tell if there was a pulse or not.
All she could do was try to stop the bleeding. Try to stop the bleeding. Gods, there was so much blood. So much…
Please… please gods, don't let this happen… this is my fault! Don't let her die because of me!
In the distance, Morgan heard familiar voices call out, the sound of multiple footsteps drawing closer. She didn't know if the help would arrive in time, or even if it mattered at this point. She didn't even know if Soleil still lived.
All she could do was plead for someone to do something, anything, to save her.
It was all her fault.
Author's Note: Well that certainly is a thing. Lots of questions left after this one I figure. Will Soleil survive? Will this be the wake-up call Morgan needs? Will Marc actually have an important role in this story or continue to be utterly redundant? Will Werdna ever finish more than one chapter a month? These are the real hard hitting questions here.
No guest reviews this time, so I'll just keep this quick and thank everyone as always for reading. I can't wait to hear what you guys thought of this one. Until next time, peace!