In Wyldwood Fate, we see the aftermath of this battle through Omen's eyes. He witnesses the blighted battlefield and has to guess at what happened, what roles everyone played. He sees little faerie alongside the Melian warriors in the field, and of course he sees the great Melian Sundragons flying through the sky.
In Chapter 7 of Battle For The Blue Wilds, we see the actual fight -- through the eyes of Nikki. He's not used to war, nor does he have much of an idea of what to expect. But he learns very clearly what war entails. Bardic magic has always been beautiful to him -- now he sees a darker side. How will battle change him?
They'll Eat The Bells, The Green, The Roots
From their perch atop the hills, Beren, Nekarra, Nikki, and the faerie warriors gaped at a sea of bugs.
Horse-sized, termite-like insects with massive yellowish bellies, long antennae, and multi-segmented limbs crowded together in a wiggling mass. Glowing veins crisscrossed their hulking bodies and carried bright blue fluid into spherical membranes wedged between distended abdomens and thoraxes.
The giant insects bubbled up from the earth at the far end of the glade and flooded the secluded meadow with their black, chitinous bodies, trampling the long grasses with their heavy legs.
"Tetramites from another world," Beren repeated 7's words with somber skepticism.
Seeing the swarm at close range, Nikki's stomach turned as he finally comprehended the magnitude of the monstrosities and the grave danger they posed to everything and everyone in the land.
Calls to fight as well as bilious gagging sounds spread through the ranks of the fae. Woefully aghast countenances told him that while the woodland folk had fought the bugs before, they'd never seen the enemy tromp through the Wyldwood in such overwhelming numbers.
Nekarra stood tall and straight, the longer of her two swords already drawn. Her eyes swept the land, from the top of the surrounding trees to the explosion of purple wildflowers clustering around the edges of the meadow.
Stone-faced, Beren took in the scene, then cast a glance to the sky. "The dragons could blast the lot with fire, but we'd lose all these trees," he said only loud enough for Nikki and Nekarra to hear.
"Geryon roasted the ones that chased us and then put out the fire with streams of ice," Nikki told his father.
Beren made a disheartened sound. "You have to know that each of these trees is connected to one of the small woodland folk. The tree dies; the faerie dies."
Nikki hadn't realized. There is so much I don't know. "If the dragons can't burn them, what are they going to do?"
Beren grinned. "Those dragon claws will cut through the bugs like a hot knife through butter."
"But I thought they couldn't touch anything?" Nikki asked, thoroughly confused. Never touch a dragon. He'd been warned over and over.
"Get Shalonie to explain." Beren shook his head. "It doesn't mean what you think it means. And ask her about the Untouchables — that doesn't mean what you think it means either."
Nikki started to ask for more of an explanation when Beren cut in again.
"The ones you ran from . . ." Beren seemed to weigh several ideas. "What did they look like? Same as these?"
"Those bugs were more like giant crabs." Nikki grimaced. "Large and ugly."
Beren's mouth pulled into a smirk. "Fire followed by ice? Guess Geryon steamed some crab."
Nikki gave a little laugh. The joke was weak, but he appreciated the tone his father wanted to set. His instinctive horror momentarily set aside, he reflected on what little he knew about the bugs.
Nekarra's mouth quirked at the edges. "Sounds like the crabs are hunters. The worms Lilyth mentioned are diggers. And I understand there are centipedes as well — also hunters."
"We have to kill all of them," Beren said coolly. "Otherwise they'll just keep coming."
Nekarra nodded curtly.
Beren seemed to relax; the decision was made.
Nikki felt the tension lift from his shoulders as well. "What's the plan?" he asked his father.
The bard looked to Nekarra.
"The hard shell on the Tetramites' heads is like a helmet," the Shindarian warrior provided. "And the pincers have a jagged edge. Aim for the soft parts. Go for those blue sacks — whatever flows through those veins is vital. Cut off the supply." A silent communication passed between her and Beren.
All eyes turned toward the swarm of bugs.
A pungent smell rose from the cluster of insects and wafted through the air — a scent at odds with the green woods and springtime flowers.
"The smell . . ." Nikki couldn't identify the reek, but it reminded him of the strong lye soap he would use to the clean the most disgusting corners of his mother's tavern.
"The smell is only going to get worse when we cut them open." Beren looked up to the dragons again and gave a loud, sharp, penetrating whistle. "Time to clean up my mess."
The six Sundragons had been circling high in the sky. They wove around each other like the branches of a wreath frame, slowly moving lower. They seemed to be waiting for something, though Nikki wasn't certain what.
"Let's see what I can do." Beren swung the lute from his back, adroitly turned a few of the pegs, and — green eyes half closed — began picking at the strings as he descended into the glade.
The magnificent instrument pulsed with icy luminosity but made no sound.
Following closely, Nikki tried to keep a close eye on Beren's hands as they slid up and down the neck of the lute, fingers flying over the strings. The master bard plucked out a pattern, repeating it again and again, but not one audible note resulted from his effort.
For a second Nikki feared he'd suddenly gone deaf, but he could still clearly hear the rustling of the wind, the shuffling of many feet, and the faint high-pitched chirr of the bugs. Not deaf. Then what . . . His confusion grew as he noticed that the giant insects were beginning to slow down.
At the same time, the company of faerie scampered to the bottom of the hill, prepared to face the bugs as one united front.
"How—" Nikki paused next to his father, frowning at the silent instrument.
"The lute can produce sounds at a higher frequency than the human ear can make out," said Beren while continuing to play.
"That's a whole swarm. How are all of them affected?" Nikki swept his eyes over the mass of monsters before them.
"Sound waves bend around obstacles and spread out." Beren grinned. "I wasn't sure if it would work, but smaller insects have sensory hairs that detect sound. Seems to work for these big ones too. It won't reach far, but it will stop those nearest us."
While the fairie band held their attack, Nikki watched as the nearest Tetramites slowed to a stop.
"How long?" Nikki asked, thinking the battle would be remarkably easy if the bugs just all stood still.
"They'll figure out what's happening, find a workaround, or just move away." Beren shook his head to a beat Nikki couldn't hear. "I'm just buying us a little time. We have to kill them. All of them."
"Time for what?" Nikki couldn't help but ask only to have Nekarra point toward the woods opposite them.
"Our soldiers have arrived." Nekarra nudged her chin in the direction of the tree line. A troop of armored warriors had appeared, weapons drawn and determined to defend their home. Some were mounted on horseback, long spears in their hands. Others carried great war bows.
"Perfect," Beren responded as his fingers nimbly plucked out a series of notes. "Care to do the honors?" He directed the question to his wife.
Nekkara raised her sword, the edge of the blade gleaming in the fading light. All eyes turned toward her — the soldiers' attention immediately drawn as was that of the fae.
"Keep it simple," Beren suggested softly. "Our soldiers might manage more complex moves, but most of the fae have never fought before. I can only work so much magic."
"I understand." Nekarra inclined her head.
Nikki had no idea what they were talking about.
Gracefully, Nekarra leaped forward, easily crossed the distance to the nearest bug, and with single-minded efficiency took a wide slice. She cut open the pulsing blue sack between its thorax and abdomen. The bug wilted and deflated like a wineskin dropped on the ground without its cork. Nikki's eyes widened, and the fae cheered.
"Looks easy enough," he muttered under his breath.
A fae boy with goat features scraped his hooves on the ground as if ready to launch himself into battle.
"Not as easy when they're moving," Beren cautioned, and audible music sprang from the glittering lute, astonishing Nikki.
Beren had ended his initial soundless song and was playing something new. Something that struck Nikki deeply — indeed it captured everyone's attention. From one moment to the next, the action Nekarra had taken rooted itself in his mind, as if he had moved in tandem with the warrior. It seemed as if her knowledge and the skill had always been part of him — part of all of them, as now they were caught in the thrall of the kill. We all know what to do.
Ear-piercing, soul-stirring strums came from the astonishing lute. The notes grew in breadth and width as Beren introduced an intense swell of sound that couldn't possibly be coming from one lute.
And yet it was.
The immensity of theme, the variation in rhythm, the pitch changes of the melody, and the intricate phrase — the entirety of the music overwhelmed Nikki.
Then Beren began to sing, lending texture and verse to create a song of unbounded heroism and ferocious battle. The bard's range played over many octaves, though his tone always remained rich and resonant.
Caught up in the glory of the music and the moment, Nikki charged into battle, feeling more alive and more powerful than he'd ever imagined possible.
He did not face the enemy alone.
All around him, wild faerie warriors charged the Tetramites, weapons held aloft, screaming answer to Beren's music as they battered their oversized foe with transcendent ferocity.
The magic of the battle song united them all.
Before he'd reached his first opponent, Nikki felt a rush of icy cold sweep across the field of battle, which moments ago had been only a serene glade in the forest — albeit overrun by enormous termites.
The Sundragons breathed ice on the Tetramite rear guard, freezing them to the ground and closing the hole in the earth they were bubbling from. More dragons dove from the sky — claws extended — and cut through swath after swath of the enormous bugs. Having devastated a group of their enemy, the Melian dragons rose back into the air only to dive again.
Nikki managed to cut through the legs of the first bug he reached before the Tetramites woke from their stupor, shuttering and squirming. Many swarmed toward Beren, having identified him as the main threat, and Nikki swung at several bugs as they tried to race past him to attack his father.
Out of the corner of his eye, Nikki saw Nekarra dance a wide circle of protection around Beren, cutting creatures down at the legs, slashing vitals, and separating heads from hulking bodies.
Beren did not fight. His swords were sheathed, all weapons stowed — except the otherworldly lute and the power of his song.
All color around Nikki brightened and turned more vibrant as the enthralling piece of music continued to burn through him like a fever. He stormed ahead, clashing with the front line of the encroaching pests.
The warriors — both faerie and human — fought beside him with the same passion and unbridled courage. They all moved together, one in their determination and nobility.
The ballad encouraged them, drove them, pushed them to the very edges of their strength and skill.
Nikki's sword cut through Tetramites with precision, taking the creatures apart just as Nekarra had shown them.
He noted injuries as they wounded his body. Negligible.
A random bite or scratch of pincers could not deter him, or any of them.
Those who fell — splendid sacrifice.
Except the battle.
Except the song.
Nikki didn't know how long he'd been fighting, but it was dark when he found himself by the knoll once again. Up ahead he could see a small group of fae — little wood sprites and a couple of fauns — surrounded by Tetramites. The fauns tried to beat the bugs with large sticks, but they were grossly outsized and outnumbered. For one brief moment, the magic of the battle song cleared from Nikki's mind.
I have to get to them.
He raced forward, cutting one bug after another. But there were too many of them. He'd never reach the little group in time. Panic welled inside him.
"Nikki!" Beren's voice cut through his panic.
"The fae! They're going—"
"Play the song!" Beren snapped at him.
"What?" Nikki pointed toward the fae, trying to make his father understand what was happening.
"The song!" He shoved the lute into Nikki's hands. "Your friends will die if I don't reach them. But you must continue playing the song!"
Nikki dropped his sword and took up the lute Beren pushed into his hand.
The moment Beren was free from the lute, he smoothly drew both of his swords, rushed forward with the confidant swagger of a wild cat, and leaped onto a rock. An intricate flip carried him over the swarming bugs, and he landed square on his feet in the middle of the small group of fae. One of the bugs lunged at him.
His movements austere, Beren rapidly sliced through the blue-veined membranes between the giant creature's thorax and abdomen. Then he shifted slightly, and fluid splattered to the ground as he slashed through the highest segment of three of the bug's legs.
The oversized insect slammed to the ground and tottered for a second before rolling onto its back.
Beren danced forward and brought the longer of his blades down to separate the plated head from the hulking body. Then, with the precision of a butcher, he cut another Tetramite into pieces, and another after that, moving so swiftly that Nikki could not follow the movements. All he saw was a flurry of motion and flashing blades lashing the beasts with preternatural speed.
Nikki watched in complete silence, horrified and fascinated at the same time. He couldn't have reached the little fae in time, but Beren had destroyed the bugs in seconds.
"Play, Nikki!" Beren shouted to him. "Keep the music going!"
Nikki couldn't disobey the order. He was vaguely aware of a shock of pain ricocheting through his body. His limbs went numb. It's the music. It was keeping me going. Without it, Nikki wanted to wilt. Without it, Nikki suspected everyone would feel the same.
He forced his frozen fingers to limber and move, though he could only repeat the notes mechanically and with tremendous effort.
He couldn't sing.
He didn't know the words.
He didn't know the language.
His head felt as though a hammer were pounding on his skull.
Taking his attention away from his miserable self, he started to play more softly, slowing the tempo, and moving through the piece fluidly.
Then he leaned back and surveyed the glade where the battle was drawing to a close.
The Tetramites lay defeated, broken, cut, crumbled away.
But death had come to more than just the hideous bugs. While the human and fae warriors had been caught up in the delirium of the fray — death had come.
The song went on — softly.
All else was silence.
Nekarra appeared from the woods, a sword in either hand, her fine armor and silken garb splattered with muck, blue sludge, and blood. She took in the scene instantly, nodding to Nikki as she neared Beren.
"This way," she urged her husband. "They still need you. But not your blades."
Nikki watched Beren follow Nekarra through the clearing. From where Nikki stood, his father looked hunched over, looked drawn and exhausted. Too much magic — it's drained him.
Guarded by Nekarra, Beren knelt down, taking up the body of a fallen faerie warrior. Bright blood soaked through white fur and drooping ears swayed just above the ground.
The goat boy.
Nikki's heart gave two painful, hard pumps.
Beren held the youngling to his chest.
In the late afternoon sun, Nikki could not tell if his father was speaking, but he heard low murmurs rise and fall — indistinct like the wind.
Nekarra sheathed her second sword and placed her free hand on Beren's shoulder.
Fatigue setting in, Nikki felt as if heavy weights were dragging him down, pulling at his limbs, but he blinked away the discomfort and continued to play.
When he looked at his father again, a golden glow had spread over Beren and the goat boy.
"Beren Deldano is one of the greatest healers in the land," he remembered being told. "A bardic healer. A very rare gift."
As the glow faded, the goat boy hopped to his hooves, shook like a wet dog, and then scampered away to where his friends were waiting for him.
Nekarra helped her husband rise to his feet.
Nikki played on, his mind spinning as he sorted out the cruel images of the aftermath.
The faerie warriors were gathering on one side of the glade. The human warriors on the other. Both groups seemed to have far smaller numbers.
The Sundragons looked like tiny dots in the last of the light as they circled the woods.
Hunting strays? Nikki thought and continued to watch his father.
Shadowed by Nekarra, Beren moved to the next fallen friend, laying hands on the chest of a human warrior splayed out on the ground in his own blood. Again, the glow spread from Beren to the injured fighter.
Every muscle in Nikki's body ached and a dull pain throbbed in his left shoulder. Yet he played on.
It took only a few more moments for his brain to fully comprehend what he was seeing when he widened his view away from Beren.
The field of battle was a graveyard of Tetramites. He tried not to identify slaughtered bodies — tried not to see what was severed limb or cleaved-open body.
He played on, knowing that the thrall of the lute's spell kept the faerie and human warriors calm. He wanted to shield them from what he was seeing. He wanted to keep protecting them from the consequences.
The battle had been won, but the cost — the sheer amount of death — rocked Nikki to the core. Beren's song had bestowed boundless bravery upon them, pushing them farther than they would have gone on their own. Beren's song had shut down the panic and horror of facing the grotesque insects. The warriors had fought and won because of the persuasion of bardic magic.
Nikki played on — obedient, but the song no longer protected him, no longer lent him courage.
The lute called in the loan.
Harsh reality shredded his visions of heroism and epic battle.
It was just him — the tavern boy — playing a tune to fool good people into thinking that this had been a glorious day.
But we saved the land, he thought weakly, knowing it was the truth.
Tetramite bodies befouled the forest, their stench growing.
For the sake of the faerie, Nikki played on — keeping the illusion alive, keeping their spirits high.
Beren moved between the injured, healing them, awakening them. But there was no hope for the dead.
Nekarra cast a stern look in Nikki's direction as his song began to sag from the pain in his fingers and the doubt in his heart. Though she was far away, his eyes met hers, and he felt a jolt of energy pass from the Shindarian. He did not see her lips move, but he understood her clearly just the same.
"Stop feeling sorry for yourself. This is what battle looks like. Now make yourself useful. Many are counting on you."
He felt the blood rise in his cheeks. "She's right," he said to himself. "No more moping."
Nikki strummed away his doubts, concentrating on the notes, unaware of the passage of time.
How many can Beren help? All of them? Some of them? He rooted for his father to save them all. Every single one.
Nikki stayed at his father's side as Beren and Nekarra made their way through the clearing, Beren healing those his magic could still reach. But the mighty bard was gaunt and leaned on his wife for support, the extreme output of magic, bardic and otherwise, had left Beren in a terrible state. Still his father did not falter despite the toll the magic was taking on his shaking body.
Also moving through the woods were the Untouchables — priests of Melia. They healed as they passed, some using magic, some just medicines and bandages.
Nikki helped as he was able, calling to healers, binding wounds, lugging the injured to makeshift infirmaries.
A group of knights moved those who could not walk toward camps being set up along the edge of the meadow.
"We should check in with—" Beren began only to be interrupted by a violent shaking of the ground. The quake lasted only seconds, but the tremors were punctuated by sharp jolts and accompanying rumbles.
The knights struggled to keep hold of their mounts' reins, but Nekarra stepped in to calm the horses with a few gentle touches until the shaking subsided.
Only a couple of feet from where they were standing, the earth tore open with one last shudder; 7 Daenoth rose from the opening.
7 can fly! Omen can't fly! Can he? Nikki presumed the man was being carried by the force of his psionics.
The knights gaped in shock at seeing the Lydonian float to the surface and touch down in front of Beren.
Beren merely raised an eyebrow.
"The underground is clear, and we took care of the queens." 7 sounded disappointed. "As soon as Omen and Shalonie close that portal, this will all be over."
"Where is Shalonie?" Nikki burst out.
7 turned to look up to where the ruins of the castle loomed. "Lost in time. We're going to have to wait and see."
Nikki's stomach sank as he realized that he had understood only a fraction of what was at stake.