"How're you holding up?" Ishida twisted in the saddle to look over at the horse bonehead rode on.
She, Bonehead, Ally, and Stone Soup were almost at the library's main building. All of them riding horses 'gifted' by Tom in his haste to be gone from the town proper and its warring dungeons.
Bonehead currently sat there straight backed staring at his hands more than at the scenery. "Only other times I've had flesh was during the full bore raid fight." He lifted a hand to spread his fingers as the wind blew past. "It's got to cost Lonely Hill a small fortune to keep skin on these old bones, but the horse seems to be doing alright. So it seems to be worth the expense."
Stone Soup nodded, "Can either of you talk to him? Y'know, in case there's trouble or anything happens?"
Possibly because of her small stature her horse carried both hers and Ishida's supplies. "How're you holding up love?"
Ishida grunted, "Missing the lotus we had, but my horse doesn't seem like he's hurting for carting a statue around."
The quartet stopped at the library before Bonehead made his horse step forward and give a whistle. "Oi! Naoko about?"
A suit of armor standing beside the library's main entrance stepped forward, causing Bonehead's horse to take a step back. It faced him and spoke, "The head libraryain is on top of the tower surveying the approaching hostiles. What message shall I send?"
"Tell her reenforcements are due here before nightfall to help fortify and prepare. The four of us will scout ahead and do as we can."
The suit of armor nodded then walked backwards until it was again on the raised plinth it had rested on before. Any watching would see twin spots of light from within the visor flicker either as if blown by unfelt wind, or in time to unheard words. Those that had keen enough eyes might see braided and spiraled lines of silk running from the plinth up the side of the building, joining other branches of similar line that wove and entwined and split and lined the structure.
The armor again spoke, but this time with Naoko's voice. "If and when we get through this mess remind me to thank the alliance. We made modifications to your branched line concept and the central library serves as communication hub."
This caused the quartet to blink, specifically Ally. "Anlnus Star's light burns bright 'round here."
Laughter from the armor, light and musical, before Naoko responded. "Helps that Charlotte had most of Herbie's notes, I still have most of my last incarnation's memories, and library full of bored engineers."
More laughter before, "But enough of that. Taru's in the parklands just on the other side of the Toymaker's holdings assisting whomever holds that place."
Bonehead straightened, "Wait, the Toymaker? As in-"
"Yep," Naoko's voice was cheerful. "We've been taking in refugees from his holdings. We're all on the same side here. Common cause and threat."
"Right," Bonehead sounded less than thrilled at this turn of events. "Best place for the four of us?"
The suit of armor looked from Bonehead to Ishida, then to Stone Soup and to Ally. Naoko's voice sounded thoughtful. "Two formations flanking either side of the park, with a third going down the middle. Either they plan on surround and drowned, or the two plan on pressing ahead to batter the Toymaker's holdings down and wait for the third to catch up.
Bonehead looked to his companions. Deep brown eyes searching theirs before settling his on Ishida's stone carved eyes. "I.... Don't know what to do. Last army I fought was with a lot more help than is on hand."
"Last time I gave you an order you disobeyed," Ishida stated firmly.
Bonehead flinched at the memory. His hunch had paid off and had he been just a hair faster maybe it would have gone better, but he had been ordered to watch the outside parameter.
Then, softer, Ishida continued, "You're not a soldier and it would be just as dumb to expect you to act like one now as it was then. I say we go have a look, and try helping whoever Taru's stuck in with not get eaten by our enemy."
"Aye," Ally grinned. "Sounds like a plan you three are good at."
"Wait, you're not coming?" Stone Soup looked as the elven woman slid off her horse and started for the library's door.
Ally looked at the trio, "Your friend will need a horse if she's to make it back, and that tower gives me a great vantage point to work from. Now get going, the lot of you, before I realize how terrible an idea splitting the party is and change my mind."
⁂ ⁂ ⁂
"You've fought bravely." Corwin's voice was carried by magic as his company of orcs and other creatures, most of whom had been infested just as he had been, stood a hundred yards from Taru and Metis's frog.
Taru said nothing, her bow still lowered, arrow held at the ready as she stared at the gathered army. that they were the sort of races that were oft lumped in with 'evil' in fantasy wasn't what bothered her. It was the lines of black crossing too-pale skin and blank white eyes that did. "If i surrender you will assimilate myself and companion into your number."
"Likely so," Corwin stated. "However we have made it clear that there are enough of us to overwhelm you and whatever this pup of a dungeon has left."
Taru fidgeted in place. metis had done what she could, but she had said the water avatar state was taxing. She had to stall for time so the Toymaker could evaccuate, but she had no more cards left to play.
"Hold!" Ishida's voice as three riders approached; a dwarf, a stone gholem, and what looked like an elf with a halfling's build road towards the army with no weapons drawn.
Corwin sneered at the trio. "Have you come to surrender?"
"Yes," Stated the not-elf of the group, "We will graciously accept the surrender of your master and end of hostilities."
At Corwin's unamused look the other two riders as well as the automaton he had been fighting buried their facies in their hands.
The not-elf gave a theatrical sigh, "It was worth a try what's th-'
He was interrupted by the dwarf throwing a rock the size of a hen's egg at him. Said Dwarf then looked to Corwin. "I am Stone Soup of the Dungineer's Confederation. I am authorized to act as mediator in this dispute and offer aid in finding peaceful and equitable resolution to-"
"You've been bewitched by Damala's heir." Corwin spat. "He's tied a stone 'round your neck heavy enough to leave us not trusting any meat you wish to offer."
Stone Soup sighed and was going to speak when she stopped. Her eyes fixing to the goblin standing behind Corwin and several rows back. "...Lutz?"
Lutz stepped into view. His once dark green skin had lightened into a sickly hue with a spiderwort of black tracing vein patterns across his skin. His white eyes looked to Stone Soup as his body sagged in resignation. "Run Campbell. Please.... This ain't something you can fight."
An arrow flew, striking Corwin's throat as Bonehead rode towards Corwin's group. "Bullshit!"
Another arrow flew just before Bonehead's horse stopped it's charge and started trying to circle away from the cohort of orcs, lupines, and other assorted things that it wanted no business with. Rather than fight the animal Bonehead jumped from it, rolling, then sprinting even as nerves screamed at him to stop.
The other three had no choice but to sprint after as fast as either legs, or horses, could carry. An explosion bloomed behind the group, causing Stone Soup to mentally note she owed Ally drinks if they got out of this.
Taru fired arrows of her own. Mundane, yet still potent. each creature hit fell clutching their throats or chests as Bonehead shouldered his bow to scoop Lutz up.
By that point the others had closed the distance and were engaging the enemy. Stone Soup had a pair of two foot long blades out carving anything that got near, and Ishida had a singular jeweled blade in her hand, lopping limbs and carving deep rents in anything that dared get near to her.
"Got him!" Bonehead yelled as he held Lutz over his shoulder and started sprinting for their horses.
"It's too late for me you idiot!" Lutz screamed as he beat his fists against Bonehead's back. "I'm infected. I can't hold it long!"
"Bullshit!" Bonehead again proclaimed. "We don't leave our own behind."
Yet even with that declaration his mind cast back to another. Someone Fuzen had taken. Someone Fuzen had done Things to. Someone they had tried to cure, or at least find a way to hold onto a piece of themselves.
Lutz lashed out with his foot, knocking air from Bonehead's lungs, causing the man to double over and let the goblin go. Lutz's hands shook as he sat there, watching the dwarf that had been his apprentice fight side by side with the stone lady he had grown to admire, and the clockwork girl whom had held the pass far longer than she had any right to.
He looked to Bonehead as he drew a short sword. "Lad. It's... alright." Blind white eyes looked to deep brown as his hand shook, causing the blade to twitch, trying to turn it away from where it was inching closer to.
Bonehead forced air into his lungs as he saw what Lutz was doing, "No! You can't!"
"Take care of them for me." Bonehead could have sworn he saw the ghost of a smile as Lutz grabbed the blade with his other hand and forced it across his throat, severing arteries, wind pipe, and finally when he fell the blade severed his spine.
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