* Cirinian Valley *
Wheaton woke with a start, coughing and sputtering. Lenora and Gavin were standing over him, a troubled look on their faces.
“Are you okay, sir?” Gavin asked fretfully.
Lenora was holding a small yellow incense pot. Its sweet-smelling fumes permeated the entire room. Wheaton recognized the smell and understood immediately that they’d used a special incense to counter the effects of the dormion.
“What did you do?” he said in an accusing tone.
Gavin gave a small noise of fright. “I’m sorry; I’m so sorry.”
“Do not be mad at Gavin,” Lenora said in a calm voice. “He was only doing what I told him to.”
As Wheaton climbed out of the small bed and put on his robe, Lenora quickly explained the situation at the main encampment and what she had been tasked to do by Calendon.
“I had no choice but to send word to Gavin to capture them. We secured a promise from Calendon that he would not hurt them if they didn’t resist, that’s why I thought it best to put them to sleep. I didn’t tell Gavin you were with them because Calendon was watching my every move. I was afraid he’d kill you and Kynobi for aiding them.”
“And the use of dormion; I assume that was on purpose?” Wheaton asked.
Lenora nodded. “Yes, I hoped that one of you would understand.”
“Indeed, I gave them vigilo to counteract the dormion,” Wheaton said. “I thought it was odd that they used dormion since it’s so easy to foil. After all, we carry vigilo and other medicines on us at all times. Good thinking, Lenora.”
“Wait.” Gavin looked back and forth between the two of them. “So, this was all some elaborate plan? I don’t understand.”
“I’m sorry I left you in the dark, Gavin,” Lenora said, “but it cannot appear at all that we are resisting Calendon and his army.”
“The vigilo will slowly counteract the dormion, so they’ll be out for less than half the normal time, which hopefully will be to their advantage. Now we need to figure out our next steps,” Wheaton said as he used his mentus sense to check the time. “Based on how long it’s been already, Jandor and his friends will be awake in about an hour.”
Lenora nodded in agreement. “That means they’ll probably still be on their way back to the main encampment. Hopefully, they’ll know to feign sleep until they have an opening.”
“We might be able to catch up with them,” Wheaton said as he started to pace, “but rescuing them would be—”
“We have a slightly more pressing issue,” Lenora interrupted. “Those monsters are camped out here.”
Wheaton froze. “What?”
“That soldier took all of our instruments too.” Gavin added.
“They know that Stephanie is one of them and that she was with you,” Lenora said. “They left creatures here to capture her. They don’t know about Chief Kynobi though.”
Wheaton sighed. “Well, we can’t despair. Kynobi is wise, he’ll figure something out.”
Lenora shrugged. “I hope so, but we are running out of ways to stall, and realistically what can two summoners do? We’ve just barely been able to keep anyone from getting killed.”
As if in response to her question, a bright, ethereal melody reached their ears. The distinct sound of a flute could be heard, echoing across the valley.
“I know that song,” Wheaton said. “That’s Stephanie.”
“What is she doing?” Lenora opened a window, amplifying the graceful melody.
Throughout the encampment, the pogs began to emerge from their hiding places as if they were expecting something to happen. Cabin windows were thrown open as others tried to discern what was going on.
In response to the song, the high-pitched howl of a wolf reverberated throughout the plains and then all went quiet. Even the normal sounds of nature had been extinguished, leaving nothing but a weighty silence heavy with expectation.
Wheaton went to the window. He’d sensed it in the mentant realm long before they became visible with the naked eye. A pack of twenty large silver wolves were racing toward the encampment from the mountains, running in tight formation. Immediately, the pogs rallied, intent on intercepting them.
The pack leader, the largest of the group of wolves, leapt through the air and attacked one of the giga pogs, avoiding the swing of its mace and knocking the pig faced creature flat on its back. This seemed to signal the start of the battle between animal and monster.
The wolves were fast, even faster than the pogs, and they were able to use that speed to their advantage, nimbly avoiding the monsters’ weapons, but the pogs would not be outdone. They were able to keep the wolves at bay as they kept swinging their swords, axes, and maces relentlessly. They had far more stamina and strength than the wolves and it was only a matter of time before their attacks connected.
“What is she thinking?” Lenora clicked her tongue in disapproval. “Having argent wolves fight; they’ll be slaughtered.”
“Maybe they’re trying to create a distraction so we can run,” Gavin offered as he stared in awe at the battle taking place.
Despite similar numbers on both sides, the pogs were steadily gaining the advantage. The wolves were steadily accumulating cuts and bruises, but they weren’t able to get close enough to attack the creatures with their teeth and claws. To counter this, two to three wolves were gathering to attack a single pog and divide its attention, but this meant that multiple enemies were left unchecked.
“I can’t watch this.” Lenora turned away from the window after seeing one of the wolves get batted away by a spiked mace, its body broken and limp before it even hit the ground.
“Wait, something’s happening,” Gavin said.
Just as it seemed that the wolves were destined for a slow but decisive defeat, a dozen brown wolves came charging out of the forest.
“It’s a pack of nemora wolves. Stephanie’s song must have reached them too,” Wheaton said excitedly
“Still, the result will be the same. They won’t last long against those monsters.” Lenora said as she paced around nervously, clearly worried that even more animals would die. “Kynobi must be behind this. If the plan is to run, we should start gathering people now. Fargo, what do you think?”
Wheaton was still entranced by the battle and didn’t answer. Three wolves knocked one of the giga pogs to the ground and it was struggling to fight back. Green pus-like blood flowed from the many scratches and wounds they inflicted.
Gavin was in awe as he watched. “I thought nothing could hurt those creatures.
Just as he said this, the wolf standing on the pog’s chest bit at its unprotected neck and blood spurted out. In the next instant, the monster disappeared.
“Did you see that!” Gavin shouted. “What happened? It just disappeared!”
“What?”” Lenora returned to the window, both curious and confused.
Wheaton was so stunned that it took several seconds for him to respond. “That’s what happens when they die. The creatures disappear…I’m such a fool! I should have seen this all along.”
He suddenly remembered the previous day when Sarah’s companion, Palmont, attacked and injured the pog, drawing the same pus-like blood from it.
“What is it?” Gavin asked.
“I don’t know how or why, but it appears animals can harm the creatures of the Book of War,” Wheaton revealed. “We need to help them.”
“What? How?” Gavin asked.
“You have a high affinity with bears, right?” Wheaton said. “There are cavar bears near here in the mountains.
“Uh, yeah, but I don’t have my horn.”
Wheaton headed for the door. “Do you know where they took your instruments?”
Gavin gulped as he realized what Wheaton was proposing.
Stephanie stood with Kynobi on a low ledge overlooking the encampment, a troubled expression on her face. “Even with the extra help from the nemora wolves, I don’t know if it’s going to be enough. Those pogs are much stronger than I thought. I wish I could do more, but it doesn’t seem like there are any other wolves nearby.”
Kynobi put a hand on her shoulder. “You did the best you could. It was impressive that you could make your song reach that far. We just have to trust in our animal allies.”
“I hope Lunox is okay,” Stephanie lamented.
From her height, she couldn’t distinguish individual wolves and only had a general gauge of how the battle was going. She was already second guessing her decision to send the wolves to fight. Despite being outnumbered, the pogs still fought viciously and were able to hold their own. She considered having the wolves run. If the pogs went after them, it would give the people trapped in the encampment a chance to escape, and the wolves might be able to evade the pogs if they fled into the forest or mountains. Just as she thought this though, they heard the warm, velvety sound of a horn playing within the encampment.
Kynobi quickly scanned the mentant realm and finally found what he was looking for. Sitting cross-legged on the roof of one of the buildings was Gavin, playing his serpent horn, a large wooden instrument that curved in a snake-like manner.
With a guttural roar, several huge black bears came sprinting from the mountains. Their large frames rivaled the size of the giga-pogs. Despite this they ran extremely fast, and the lead bear bowled over one of the three remaining giga pogs, ripping into the monster with its sharp claws. Before Kynobi could even process what was happening, someone hailed them.
“I thought I’d join you. I’ll need some height if I’m to be of any help.” It was Wheaton, panting heavily as he ran up the mountain path to reach the ledge they were standing on.
“Fargo, I’m so glad you’re all right!” Kynobi said as he clasped hands with his aged friend.
“Where are the others?” Stephanie asked.
“I’ll explain everything shortly, but first, I need to call in more reinforcements.”
Wheaton put the flute he was holding to his lips and started playing a light, airy melody, quite different from the one Stephanie played previously. This was to be expected as Wheaton was summoning a completely different type of animal.
There was hardly any sound as several black-winged condors soared down into the valley to join the fray. Just as Palmont had done the previous day, his summoned birds would serve as a distraction, clawing at the faces of the pogs to keep them from focusing on the bears and wolves.
With the reinforcements from the condors and bears, the fight was finally turning in the animals favor. One by one, the pogs were brought down by the coordinated attacks of the wolves or the brute force of the bears.
Stephanie breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s working. They’re doing it.”
As the last of the pogs were cornered and defeated, Kynobi once again put a hand on her shoulder. “Come, we must see to the injured.”
Stephanie nodded in agreement, and the trio headed down the mountain.
Though all of the pogs were defeated, the battle was not without animal losses. Two of the forest dwelling nemora wolves and one of the silver-furred argent wolves were slain, and several more were injured. As the main combatants and first into battle, they suffered the most injuries. The bears only had minor wounds and the condors were able to avoid injury entirely.
There was a somber mood in the encampment when Kynobi, Wheaton, and Stephanie arrived. Healers were already tending to the wounded animals under Lenora’s guidance, and the sole soldier had been restrained to prevent him from escaping and telling Calendon what happened.
Lunox came trotting up to Stephanie as soon as he saw her. Aside from a few shallow gashes, her silver wolf was fine and seemed to be in good spirits.
She knelt down and stroked his head. “Thank you so much,” she said softly. “I’m so sorry one of your pack was slain.”
Lunox gave a small whimper at this but leaned into Stephanie’s touch as if accepting her gratitude.
Lenora was next to come up to them. “Can someone explain what’s going on?”
Stephanie stood, her somber expression twisting into one of anger. “I should ask you the same thing. Wheaton told me what you did!” she shouted, jabbing a finger into Lenora’s shoulder.
Lenora was taken aback by Stephanie’s disrespectful gesture. “You don’t understand, I didn’t have a choice.”
“You sold my friends out to save your own—”
“I did what I had to do to keep everyone alive including your friends! At least my plan didn’t get animals killed—"
“Ladies!” Kynobi said sternly. “Nothing will be accomplished this way. We’ve all made some very tough decisions with no right answers. Unfortunately, that is the nature of war, and though we have been dragged unwillingly into this battle, if we are to regain control of our beloved valley, we’ll need to continue on this uncomfortable path for yet a while longer.”
Both Stephanie and Lenora took steadying breaths before stepping back from each other.
“I’m sorry Chief Vansin,” Stephanie said, giving a slight bow. “My nerves have just been frayed since I got back.”
“It’s fine,” Lenora said with a soft smile. “I apologize as well; I shouldn’t have lashed out. I know it took great resolve to do what you did.”
“I too would like to know exactly how this was possible, but explanations can wait. We must get to Jandor and the others as quickly as possible,” Wheaton said. “Now that we have a means of fighting, we have a chance of freeing them.”
Stephanie nodded. “We can ride the argent wolves. They’ll be able to catch up quickly, especially if we go through the woods.”
“Wait,” Lenora said hesitantly. “Are we sure we want to do this? We were barely able to defeat the pogs here, and there are twice as many with that lieutenant, plus some massive bear creature called a deathclaw. Surely, we don’t want to risk anymore lives?”
“I understand how you feel, but right now, we have no other options,” Wheaton said. “If we’re going to reclaim the valley, we’ll need help from Jandor and his friends.”
“Besides, we won’t need to fight them head on,” Kynobi added. “I have an idea.”