Chapter 46

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            The sunlight had turned the honey gold colour of late afternoon when Rika sent off the last of a batch of six messages. She was beginning to feel a bit tired from the magic use, which had her thoughts turning to magic levels. In so many of her books, mages were limited by their personal reserves of magic, but she had to wonder if that happened in reality. Maybe there was even a way to boost how much magic she had…

            Rika’s thoughts were interrupted by an odd noise. Frowning, she turned to look behind her. The corners of her lips pulled farther down when she saw there was no runner behind her. In fact, the only people outside of the command tents were her and Ahisu. The mage was sitting by the rise’s lone tree, staring down at the battlefield, on the other side of the road from her.

            Hearing the noise again, this time louder, Rika recognized what it was. It was the faint thud of footsteps and the soft rustling of cloth. But it was coming from below her. Scrambling to her feet, Rika got closer to the edge of the rise, her eyes widening at what she saw.

            Looking like a swarm of bees, heavily armed men were climbing up the hill, their yellow uniforms sending a jolt through her. Several of them saw her looking and abandoned all pretense at being quiet, starting to run up the last of the rise. Rika backed up several steps, mouth working, heart thudding in her ears. As the first of the soldiers’ torsos appeared above the hill, she shouted “Attack! Attack! We’re under attack!”

            Rika continued to move backwards, getting herself partway up the hill behind her, remembering that so many of her books had said that height provided an advantage when fighting. Already she could see guards, soldiers, Lord Zobah, Damek, and Elthia all come pouring out of the command tents, weapons at the ready. Ahisu was already halfway to the men still racing up the hill, his staff gripped in two hands.

            Taking a deep breath to try and calm herself, already Rika could feel sweat beading up on her back as she alternated between feeling hot and cold. The fact that Atelic’s soldiers had moved up in such a way, that she was blocked off from everyone else didn’t help any. While most of them had turned to face the threats coming out of the tents, some were already hefting their blades in her direction.

            She stood higher than everyone with what looked like a river of soldiers between her and her friends. This was the first time that Rika could ever remember seriously thinking that she might die. The feeling caused another jolt of adrenaline to course through her, her pupils dilated and suddenly, it was like the world had gone into slow-mo.

            All her thoughts about dying seemed to evaporate as Rika set herself into a fighting stance, eyes tracking the movements of the men climbing up towards her. Her mind seemed to have given up on thinking as Rika felt like someone had poured liquid caffeine into her veins.

            The first man to get close enough to her, she twisted and side kicked in the face. He went tumbling down the hill, rolling into one of his comrades, causing the other man to join him in the fall. The other soldiers looked at one another, hesitating before continuing their climb. Rika used their distraction to spare a glance towards her friends.

            Damek was in the lead of Zobah’s soldiers, his limbs a blur as he struck out at anything in yellow. Elthia was standing at the sides, watching the fight with a pinched face. Ahisu was a black whir as he lay about with his staff, red movement beside him being Shetton, every strike the demon made accompanied by screams. They were still on the other side of the yellow soldier wall from her.

            But with the soldiers entering into her range, Rika had no more time to look at what was happening with her friends. The slash the lead man sent at her made Rika jump up to avoid it. As soon as she landed, she lashed out with her foot, striking the wrist that held the sword. The man yelped, his sword falling from bruised fingers. Rika used the momentum of her kick to land on that foot, then twisted herself around to deliver a roundhouse to the soldier’s head with the other. He dropped and she retreated back to her previous position.

            The two just behind him moved together, trying to pincer her between their blades. Rika jumped back, stumbling slightly as she landed. The steepness of the grassy hill gave her an idea. She shoved herself down the hill, her heels digging into the ground, shifting so she quickly fell on her backside. Combining the momentum with her own strength, she sank fists into each of the soldiers’ stomachs, causing them to double over and collapse backwards.

            Rika shoved herself to her feet and stumbled again. But this time she wasn’t able to catch herself. Again, she slid down the hill, her heels leaving long scars of earth in the grass as she tried to stop herself. When she finally did slow, she was nearly at the base of the rise, right in the thick of the enemy soldiers.

            Bubbles of fear and panic began to churn her stomach as she realized there was no way she was going to get back up the hill in time. She was completely surrounded. She gulped and set herself as the men nearest her noticed her entrance. If she was going to die, she would go down fighting.

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