Nox had often heard that no plan survived its implementation. Certainly no one had expected things to go off without unforeseen difficulties. The present situation had even been brought up at the planning meetings, yet he had not given the possibility much weight. What was the likelihood that a powerful mage, or mages, could slip into the city undetected while the Arcanium had made efforts to prevent such a thing from happening?
Nox knew the answer to that question. Yet, a circle of mages had carefully observed the local Church of Illumination priests and their temple since the uprising, no one should have been able to sneak into the Cathedral. Or, if they had, the Warders and the Arcanium should have detected it and been aware of who and how many mages were present. Their best efforts had only revealed the three priest that had been known of before the uprising, and a couple of handfuls of initiates. So they had experienced an intelligence failure, which had lead to the present debacle Nox was now caught up in.
The yards and gardens around the Cathedral of Light were blackened and charred, the smell of burnt flesh hung heavy in the air, despite the weather. A number of outbuildings were burning, a dozen of city guards lay dead within his lines of sight. To make matters worse an unusually powerful snowstorm had blown in from the north shortly after dawn, an hour or so into the operation.
He, Ide, three other Lamplighters, a couple Warders and a half dozen guards now sheltered behind a modest stone wall along a property across the street from the cathedral grounds. He had spotted a couple of other small groups of survivors, mostly those who had been further back from the temple when the waves of fire had blasted out from the cathedral, across the grounds, engulfing his assault force in fire. By the columns of smoke rising from the other side of the property, something similar had happened over there, Nox wondered if Argis had survived.
Minette crawled through the slush and muck back to his position, she was taking great effort to stay low, keeping out of sight of the cathedral. She was slightly singed, clothing scorched, her hair mostly burnt away. Soot covered the right side of her face and she shivered in the damp cold, “Sir, I’ve healed everyone here who needed it. Unless we resolve this situation quickly we will need warmer clothing.”
Nox gave her a nod and passed her one of his power crystals. He reached over and pulled Ide back down, from where he had been peeking over the wall, “What’s it look like?”
Ide was flushed, his eyes bright, “It’s hard to say where they are. You know those old churches are built like fortresses.”
“Did you spot a way in?”
“The roof would be our best bet, though whoever is in the belfry will have a view of most of the rooftop. What’s with all this damn snow? Since when do Tannican priests throw powerful weather spells around?”
Nox gave him a look, it took a moment but when Ide caught his meaning the apprentice’s eyes grew large, “Oh.”
“That’s an issue for later. If I get Minette to put some protection spells on you, do you have enough energy to quicken yourself and the two Warders?”
Ide gave a nod, a small black power crystal slid from his sleeve into his hand, “I’m good.”
“Alright, you two. When I give the signal, you will move out with Ide. Min, protect these three as best as you can.” He pointed to the other two Lamplighters, “You two are with me, were going to bring some darkness down on the bell tower. Guards, cover us with your crossbows. Everyone wait until I give the word.”
Nox, followed by the other two Lamplighters crawled along the property wall until they were near the gate. “Alright, Yerbi, can you darken the side entry and the windows above? Draf, do the same with the corner between us and the bell tower, I’ll look after the tower itself, then start shooting anyone who exposes themselves. Be prepared to channel me whatever you have available for energy.”
“Yes, sir.” They both gave a nod.
Nox glanced down along the wall, saw that the others were ready and waiting, he raised his arm and dropped it. Then he stood up, gestured with splayed fingers at the tower and was happy to see it suddenly enveloped in darkness, a moment later the main side entrance and the near corner of the cathedral were also shrouded in darkness. “Ide! Now!”
Ide and the two Warders raced across the street. Nox ducked down behind the wall and shifted his position. When he glanced back over the wall, Ide was already bounding up the side of the cathedral and the other two had made it to the base of the wall, without being shot or engulfed in flame. He stood up again and spotted movement behind one of the large stained glass windows. He pointed and a bolt of light flashed. The guardsmen were firing one after the other, well spaced out and mostly too scared to take the time to aim.
Nox saw a crossbow bolt, fired from an archer’s slit, just under the roof of the cathedral, the bolt deflected off the wall the guards were sheltering behind. He pointed again, light flashed from his finger and scorched the cathedral wall a few inches from the narrow slit the crossbow bolt had come from. Twice more he blasted a bolt of light into that area, then dropped down behind the wall again.
The other two Lamplighters channelled their energy to him, he crawled to a new position, took a breath and came up again. He spotted the two Warders on the roof, but had lost track of Ide. He watched a couple of the bolts his guards fired smack into the side of the cathedral. He ducked back down. Draf was looking drained, pale faced and shivering uncontrollably, “Hey, move back to the guards, tell them to take a moment to aim. At least try to hit a window.”
Draf gave a nod and crawled away. Yerbi looked at Nox, “I don’t have much energy left.”
“That’s alright, take this.” Nox passed him a crystal.
Nox stood up again and cast a spell on himself that would protect him from hostile spells. He walked through the gate, openly, fully exposed, heading back towards the cathedral. He hoped Minette would protect him from the enemy’s crossbows, but he had to make sure he provided a big enough distraction to buy Ide the time he needed. A crossbow bolt thrummed past his head, he had not seen where from. Nor could he see Ide or the two Warders, hopefully that was a good sign.
As he approached the cathedral he spotted movement behind one of the windows again, he pointed, light flashed and whoever was behind the window dropped out of sight. Nox thought he might have hit whoever it was. The winds gusted and howled, snow blew vertically, Nox nearly tumbled over but forced himself forward and staggered a few paces. He felt an enemy’s spell brush across his defences, he stepped over the charred body of one of his men.
He glanced behind and saw the others were advancing as well. He nearly told them to go back for cover, but thought better of it. If Ide succeeded, then having his people closer to the cathedral entrance would be better. If Ide did not succeed, then hiding was only going to delay the inevitable. The defenders certainly seemed to be less persistent, perhaps Argis had breached from the other side. He walked up to the cathedral’s side door, dispelled the darkness that shrouded the entrance. Then he dropped down to the base of the doors and listened, the wind and the approach of his people made hearing anything within impossible. At least no one was shooting at them, nor casting walls of fire.
He stood up as the bar was removed from the door, it clattered to the floor within, he and his people surged back slightly, the doors were opened. Ide and one of the Warders was there, streaked in blood, “I can hear the other team up front, Argis and his people are inside.” Ide reported.
“Everyone get inside. Take a moment.”
They huddled in the entry. One of the guards produced a flask and after taking a drink passed it around. Nox took a small swig of the bitter quince. He took some deep breaths and looked his people over.
The Warder said, “Sir, I’m going to fall back to Neradd’s position, we’ll wait at the end of the hall.” Nox gave a nod.
“Alright, I need you four to hold the entrance. The rest of you are with me.”
After a few more moment moments, they made their way to where the two Warders guarded the passage, then proceeded to the main hall where they found a number of dead Tannicans, a few had been priests, most had been local citizens. Three of the bodies had been Defender’s of the Light, elite church soldiers, who by all reports previous to this action, should not have been here. Two other Warders and eight city guards were keeping watch over a handful of prisoners.
One of the Warders approached, “Sir, we have a group sweeping the upper levels. Argis and some of the others have gone down a stairwell that’s open on the dais behind the altar. At least a few of the Tannicans escaped that way.”
“I’ve four men keeping the side door. I’ll leave most of my people here with you. Ide, come along.”
Nox and Ide found the narrow stairs behind the altar and made their way down. A damp passage lead to an underground peer, where they found Argis and a half dozen others. There were two more dead church soldiers and, although badly wounded, an initiate had been taken alive.
Argis came over to Nox, “At least one of the priests escaped with a couple of Defenders of the Light. I have no idea where this tunnel comes out, it does not appear to be connected to the sewers.”
“We lost most of our men on the initial approach. We’ve secured the side entrance and the rest of my men are upstairs with yours.”
“We lost too many men as well, though we had better defences against fire.”
Nox had nothing to say in response. He was tired and while Argis was more familiar with such actions, this was the first time Nox had actually been in combat with other mages. Part of him could not help but feel responsible for those who had died under his command.
Argis put a hand on Nox’s shoulder, “Things did not go as well as we had hoped, but the job is done. Next time it will be easier, this experience was required so we would be better able to defend the Arcanium and GreensBridge.”
Nox gave a tired nod, he doubted he would ever find this sort of thing easy.