The dead in shattered heaps about his feet, Uthul knew only the battle for life.
He waded through the Grol corpses, their pooled blood tacky beneath his boots, and willed his scavenged sword to work. He knew no mercy for the beasts inadvertently born of Ree’s holy flesh. He could afford none.
He’d caught them unaware as Arrin and the Pathran, Kirah, cleaved through their clustered ranks, but the Grol had been quick to recover. Where at first he’d sent a dozen of the beasts to earth for every glancing strike he’d taken, he now traded them nearly blow for blow as they clamored around him. They were wearing him down.
Uthul had targeted the empowered Grol, doing as much to ruin their ranks first, risking precious seconds and the return of the plague to collect their O’hra. He had mostly succeeded. Those that remained wounded him worst. The taint of their magic set his stomach to churning. Ree’s essence enflamed his blood and set fire to his skin. Being so close to it was a danger, not only to himself, but to those of his people who still remained. He was being poisoned by the overload of pure, magical essence, and it would not be long before the plague returned. It would soon kill him. He prayed to Ree it would end there.
Uthul darted before the lines, using the Grols’ numbers against them. The beasts stumbled into each other and blocked their own attacks, but he could only manage to thwart so many. Uthul’s sword flickered like a serpent’s tongue. Its deadly bite weaved its way through the Grol before him only to find another of the creatures clambering to take its place. Their warm blood crusted his face and arms, and he could smell its bitterness with every breath. It matched his mood.
He hoped Zalee had stolen away with the O’hra-bearers and fled the city, but worry nagged at him. The uncertainty of his daughter’s whereabouts weighed heavy upon his thoughts. His concern slowed him even more than his wounds, but he fought on, paving the streets with Grol bodies. Sweat oozed thick from his pores, and he could feel the sickness in it. The O’hra clattered in the bag at his belt, and for an instant, he contemplated donning them so he might regain his strength, if only for one last glorious push before the plague overwhelmed him. Surrounded as he was by magic, he believed the sickness would consume him long before the battle was over. A stray thought sent his free hand reaching for the bag. The crack of thunder drew his focus from such suicidal action.
In response to the sound, there was a sudden lull. The wall of Grol hesitated, their gazes shooting to the sky at his back. Uthul cleaved another of the beasts as it stood motionless, and then dared a furtive glance over his shoulder as the bestial ranks broke. Gray stone obscured the light.
Despite its already frantic pace, Uthul’s heart sputtered as one of the city’s great spires careened towards him. Clouds of dust and crumbling masonry bits pelted him as he stood in the path of the tumbling spire. In its demise he saw salvation.
Rather than follow the fleeing Grol, Uthul darted directly beneath the falling ruin. Massive stones struck the ground all around and sent vibrations through his body, but he pushed on into the whirling fog of debris. At the last moment, he darted from the path of the spire. He ran through the alleys of the nearby homes, which stood in the shadows of their surroundings walls, and had been spared the Grol’s mystical assault. Uthul hoped they would last just a few moments longer.
The spire crashed into the closest of the homes, the world washed away by the roar of the collision. The ground danced beneath Uthul’s feet and he stumbled. Shadows roiled on the wind as the spire came down. Uthul gathered what was left of his strength and dove through the thickening hail of wreckage. A flicker of gray light loomed ahead, sanctuary in the chaos. Then darkness flooded over him.
His world went black.