Book 1: Chapter 25 (Chalicothere Clash)
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Chapter 25

            “Bayla, stop!”

            The orca did not listen. Of course she didn’t. She had been talking about honor and vengeance; there was no way she was going to hang back and wait.

            “Better get out your last summon, Nanora,” shouted Vince, not far behind Bayla.

            He might as well have been invisible, as far as their enemies were concerned. The Kaleekos knew their main target now that they did not have Nanora’s dog to distract them. The red-furred beasts awaited her charge, their hooked claws ready for her approach.

            She thrust with her Aqua Spear, but she seemed off balance. Vince realized that while she was exceptionally strong, she had barely had legs for a full day yet. Even just going to the Renaissance Fair every summer and watching the duels had taught him a better stance than that.

            Bayla bellowed a war cry, her human and orca voices blending together. She thrust forward with the spear, and its sharp point pierced the flank of the left Kaleeko. The magical weapon struck something hard and was stuck fast. The summon rumbled in pain as it came down again on all fours, the motion ripping the spear from Bayla’s grip. The sudden yank staggered Bayla.

            Something seemed off, but Vince had no time to worry; he was nearly upon the other beast. Sure, his little Bowie knife seemed like a joke against the enormous creature, but backed up by his new Champion strength, it might just be enough.

            He had the sense not to come at it head on, though. Remembering his fight with the griffon, he juked at the last moment, running towards the Kaleeko’s flank. He took a swipe at the beast’s hind leg, cutting a deeper gash than Bayla had managed. Vince thought the creature’s pained bellowed sounded like a horse’s whinny with the bass cranked up all the way.

He missed how much damage he inflicted; momentum carried him past the creature, and he cut a shallow furrow in the gravel road when he put on the brakes. He also left some tread from his sneakers behind in a long, white streak. Just how fast had he been going?

            How did that happen? He looked down at his knife with something close to suspicion. Shouldn’t this have gotten stuck, too? This is just a normal knife. Why is it better than a magic spear?

            Vince whirled around to see Nanora zipping near the Kaleeko’s head on her flying staff, dressed in her full magical regalia. She was not armed, so it seemed all she could do was harass the beast Vince had injured. The Kaleeko’s powerful forelegs hooked through the air, ripping her pointed white hat from her head. The witch kept at it, though she gave the creature a wider berth.

            Bayla cried out, and all concern for Nanora left Vince’s mind. The other Kaleeko had her pinned under its paws, using its bulk to keep her pinned. She hurled invectives at it even as she struggled to push it off of her.

            Vince could tell something was wrong. Even with the poor leverage, the beast should have struggled against her. She hammered against its ankles, but the Kaleeko was completely unbothered. A shove from Bayla launched Rufus ten feet. Real punches should be snapping bones!

            “Vince!” Her voice was a pained wheeze, just audible over the grunts and whinnies of the two Kaleekos. Nanora had the one occupied, leaving Vince a clear opening to charge in.

            “Bayla!” For all of his talk about waiting for backup before, Vince did not hesitate to come to Bayla’s rescue. His feet pounded against the tight-packed gravel, his heartbeat roaring in his ears. There was no plan; by the time he might have had a chance to think about it, he had already leapt at the Kaleeko’s flank. He did not even have the presence of mind to use his knife; instead, he slammed into the false beast shoulder first.

            His eyes widened as he realized his mistake. Magically enhanced strength or not, the Kaleeko was two tons of magically replicated bone and muscle. Vince heard a pop in his shoulder before he bounced off. He hit the gravel, rolling twice before he came to a stop.

            “Like a brick wall,” he spat, along with flecks of blood.

            He was partially successful; the Kaleeko turned to face him, freeing Bayla in the process. The orca was not quick to move, though. She better not be…

            A threatening whinny from the Kaleeko brought Vince’s mind off those worries. He only just rolled out of the way of the creature’s claws. It had retracted them for Bayla because it was ordered to keep her alive; Vince had no such protection.

*********************

Nanora was having a better time, but only just. She manipulated the morphic field of her jeweled staff like it was second nature, making it lighter and heavier as she wove through the other Kaleeko’s strikes.

            Her mind raced. Two summons. I have two summons left, maybe three if Kalenka’s leg wouldn’t be summoned broken. What am I supposed to do? This was never supposed to happen; I shouldn’t be facing another witch’s summons alone! If these were real Kaleekos, I could scare them off, but these aren’t real creatures. They’ll keep fighting until we’re dead, or they’re unsummoned.

            A near miss robbed her of her hat. Her heart raced, but she kept her balance. Nanora could just about hear her teacher Kofana’s hectoring tone. Listen to yourself! Some ally of justice you are, panicking at the first sign of trouble. Don’t fret; you have Providence and good on your side! Act like it!

            “Oh tools of evil,” said Nanora, landing a good distance from the Kaleekos. “You are brave while you fight humans, but let’s see how you handle something your own size!” The little speeches were not so much about browbeating the enemy as they were to reassure herself.

            Nanora needed the help; the Kaleeko’s attention was firmly on her, even as it bled golden sparkles from the gash Vincent had given it. She had hoped to save Phosphata for a rematch with Marazza, since the drake took so much energy to summon, but her hand was forced.

            A swirling, golden portal opened up next to her, taller than either Kaleeko. Oh, I hope I don’t knock out too much technology the down-planers need.

The Kaleeko abandoned its charge, proving that it was either an exceptional summon, or its master had given it extremely detailed instructions. A simpler minion would have charged straight into the swirling energy if their orders were simply to kill. Instead, it eyed the emerging sky drake warily, ready to respond.

“Oh, Phosphata, I am so relieved to see you!” Many Avalasans would have screamed in terror at the mere sight of a sky drake; Nanora thought Phosphata was cute, in her own way. Her body was shaped a bit like a giraffe’s, with a long neck, compact body, and spindly legs. That was where the similarities ended, though. Enormous, batlike wings were tucked under each forelimb, and her head bore a spear-like beak nearly as long as the neck. Phosphata’s skin was covered in drab brown and grey pycnofibers, but a helmet-shaped crest on her head was a threatening red.

Nanora very much wanted to reach out and give her least used summon a quick pat. Unfortunately, this was not the time.

She leveled her staff at the Kaleeko. “Phosphata, kill it! It’s a summon, so don’t hold back!”

The sky drake gave no response; her kind was even less friendly than the drepanikes by nature. She reared up on her shorter hind legs, her wingspan nearly reaching the trees on either side of the two-lane gravel road.

The Kaleeko accepted the invitation and charged forward, a booming whinny echoing through the trees around them.

Nanora had read of the pterosaurs of Earth (Vorbeck’s store’s low foot traffic gave her quite a bit of downtime), who must have been the progenitors of the sky drakes. Their hollow bones and thin wing membranes would have given the Kaleeko a clear advantage in a brawl.

Good thing that Phosphata is no ordinary pterosaur, then.

A flap of Phosphata’s wings filled the air with impossibly-focused wind currents. The invisible blades carved deep tracks in the Kaleeko’s red and white coat. The clawed horse staggered under the assault, its golden life-mana spraying in all directions.

The magic of Avalas treated its foundlings differently. Humans possessed the magic of morphic fields and summons. To the blackfish went enhanced intelligence and transformation. The sky drakes had received command of the very air itself.

Nanora’s eyes goggled as the Kaleeko pressed on. That Kaleeko is a fine summon! “Be careful!”

She need not have worried. Sky drakes looked thin and spindly, but their magic let them be surprisingly robust, since they could create their own updrafts at will. Phosphata fell back on all fours and met the Kaleeko’s charge with her own. They collided hard enough that Nanora felt it in her feet. They strained against each other, each trying to push the other to the ground. Before the Kaleeko could deploy its claws or tusks, Phosphata ended the fight with a stab from a beak longer than Vince was tall. The simulated Kaleeko staggered back with a golden void in its neck, and the rest of it vanished into magical dust not long after.

Nanora beamed up at her summon. “You did a splendid job! Marazza was fortunate I couldn’t summon you before!”

Phosphata did not respond to Nanora’s words, or to the hand that ruffled the pycnofibers on her flank. She simply waited for more orders as she impassively watched the remaining Kaleeko square off with Vince and Bayla.


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