“What’s the plan here?” Dan asked.
“We’ve got to get in there,” Gideon said, thinking. “All we have is outdated information. Things are moving too fast. We have to know where things stand.”
Dan agreed. The only obvious choice was to somehow get into Hyleran. The difficulty was that Hyleran was now in enemy hands.
The kyrie had flown for the rest of the night, and they had reached Hyleran just before dawn. The gate to the city was shut, and judging by the plumes of smoke rising from behind the walls, several houses had been burned down, and were still smoldering. There had obviously been a battle for the city, and if the empty walls were any indication, the alliance had lost. Einar would never leave the walls empty of guards.
Dan and his kyrie had flown high over the city while it was still dark, and he had used his goggles to discern how many were in the city. There had been many heat signatures, but most had been huddled together in random buildings. Only a few were patrolling the streets. Everyone agreed that whoever had captured Hyleran must have taken the majority of the citizens prisoner. Luckily for Dan and the others, it seemed that whatever force had taken the city had also moved on, leaving only thirty or so guards. They were still outnumbered of course, but Dan felt confident that his gloves could win such a battle.
“We don’t know who the guards are,” Gideon said, “so that’s a risk. If they’re mages, we’re dead.”
“Mages would be needed at the front though,” Laelia reasoned. “The guards are most likely just common soldiers, like drow or orcs.”
“I hope so,” Gideon said.
Jaseff cleared his throat. “Why don’t we just wait?” he asked. Everyone looked at him. He looked uncomfortable, but kept going. “Jandar’s army will return here eventually. That’s what they said. Why can’t we just wait for them?”
In response, Gideon pointed to the walls of Hyleran. The sun was peeking over the horizon now, and by its red light, it was easy to see the soulborg guns sitting atop the wall. The last time Dan had seen them, they had been idle, gleaming in the sunlight. Now they were damaged, some missing completely. But on every gun, he could make out a miniature robota, slowly but surely repairing circuits and coils.
“We don’t have time,” Gideon said. “Utgar’s armies carry those robots with them. The army destroys the soulborg defenses of whatever they attack, then use those robots to repair them. If we attack when those guns are operational, we won’t last ten seconds. They automatically lock onto anything they see. We’ve got to act now. Dan thinks he can handle thirty enemies, and after seeing what he’s done, I’m inclined to believe him. All we’ve got to do is make sure he has a clear shot.”
“So what do we do?” Jaseff asked. “Just walk in through the main gate?”
Gideon glanced at Dan. “Might as well,” he said. “There are no guards on the walls to see us coming. Either they’re extremely confident in their victory, or just incredibly stupid. Either way, it’s good for us.”
Dan nodded. The gate was no barrier to his gloves.
They quickly agreed on a plan. Dan would knock down the gate, they would enter Hyleran, and track down all of the guards. Gideon, Laelia, Jaseff, and the remaining knights and ninjas would stay close to Dan, protecting him from attack.
It was a good plan if all they faced were enemies with swords. But if they went up against magic, or even arrows, Dan would be defenseless. That was why the ten kyrie would circle overhead, watching for any mages or archers. If they saw any, they would drop down and dispatch them before they could fire a single shot.
Convinced that the plan was as good as they could do on such short notice, they moved out, leaving the cover of the trees and running across the clearing to the main gate. The walls were empty; there was no one to see them coming. The kyrie took to the air. Once they reached the main gate, Dan placed his palm on it, closed his eyes against the pain he knew would come, and pushed.
Several pulses of energy ran the length of the gate. Dan pushed harder. Splinters of wood exploded from the frame. Then the whole gate burst from the wall, and flew backwards, into the city. It landed not far away, teetered for a moment on its edge, and then fell flat, revealing several surprised orcs.
That was a relief. There were no orc casters.
The orcs simply stared at them in shock as Dan raised his pistol, took careful aim, and fired. One orc dropped dead. The others, realizing what was going on, scrambled for the cover of the nearest house. Dan holstered his pistol.
“Stay close to the wall,” Gideon said. “We don’t want to get surrounded. They’ll come to us at first.”
They moved into Hyleran, Dan leading, everyone else following in a tight pack. Overhead, Dan saw the kyrie begin to dive into the city. There must be archers among the orcs. Dan wondered why they hadn’t been on the walls. He had heard the orcs were not the brightest, but were they that stupid? He supposed they didn’t think they needed lookouts, especially if they knew about the demon. Doubtless, they assumed that any force to the south had long since been obliterated. Dan moved to the left, staying close to the wall as Gideon had said. The orcs would charge him soon; it was their only tactic.
Dan was beginning to think retaking Hyleran would be easy. He would blast away any orc he saw, the kyrie would take care of the rest, they would free the prisoners, and then, if the transporter was still working, they could go anywhere in Valhalla. They might be able to warn Jandar or Einar before it was too late.
That fantasy faded as the first orc stepped into view. Dan immediately knew something was different: this orc wasn’t like the others he had seen. The only weapon he carried was a short axe. He had minimal armor. And he was wearing a grin which told Dan they were missing something.
Dan raised his glove just as the orc raised his hand. Before Dan could move another muscle, lines of red energy burst from the orc’s palm, streaking down the road as fast as lightning. They struck Dan and everyone behind him, and immediately his whole body seized up. Every muscle was taut. Unable to move, Dan lost his balance, and fell ungracefully to the road, his hand still outstretched. Judging from the thuds behind him, many of the others had fallen as well.
Dan’s chest was completely locked up. He could only manage the smallest of breaths. He could feel the muscles in his arms and legs burning as they refused to loosen. He forced himself to stay calm. If he panicked, he would need more oxygen. And in his rigid state, that was something his lungs could not supply.
At least his eyes could still move. He saw two more orcs join the first, armed similarly.
“What do we do?” one of them asked the other.
“Put them with the rest,” another said. “Vydar said to keep all prisoners alive.”
Vydar said. So Vydar was giving commands here, not Utgar. That was interesting.
More orcs appeared and began picking up Dan’s companions. “Careful,” an orc grunted as he lifted Jaseff. “Mage.”
A pair of rough hands gripped Dan around the waist and began pulling him down the road. As he moved, his muscles began to relax. It was painful, like every muscle in his body was cramping at once, but at least they weren’t rigid any longer. Dan could move, except now his muscles felt completely drained, like he had been using them all day. He struggled to raise his glove at the nearest orc.
Unfortunately, the orc saw him first. More red energy struck Dan, and his muscles seized up again.
“It’s wearing off,” the orc said. The other orcs similarly sent red energy through those they were carrying.
Dan didn’t understand. The orcs weren’t supposed to have mages. Then again, Utgar wasn’t supposed to have giant demons, or dragons capable of summoning shadow-beasts, either. He supposed there had been more changes than they knew of.
The orcs dragged them down the street, turned a corner, went down another street, and finally pulled open the door to a low building. Dan quickly discerned it was a prison. It was dark and cold inside, and once the orcs pulled him through the door, he could make out cells lining the walls, consisting of nothing but three walls of metal bars, set against the hard stone back wall of the building. The orcs dragged them past several cells, allowing Dan to see that they were all occupied, mostly with kyrie and samurai. Finally the orc hauling Dan stopped, pulled open the door to one cell, and shoved Dan inside.
Unable to move, Dan hit the floor hard. He heard someone else land next to him. Judging by the grunt of pain, it was Gideon. Then someone else was flung into the cell. Was it one of their kyrie? The cell door slammed shut. Dan heard others being thrown into different cells. More slamming doors. Tramping feet. The door to the building clanged shut, and silence and darkness took them.