World Spectrum: Birthday Presents, Hobbit-Style

In The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits have an interesting take on birthday presents. Rather than giving presents to the birthday boy/girl, the person whose birthday it is will shower presents on their loved ones. It shows both the good nature of the Hobbits, and their practical — this results in everyone getting more presents over the course of a year.

Cover art for "Rage of the Old Gods, the First Book of the World Spectrum" by Tyler F.M. EdwardsI like the idea, so I’ve decided to partake of it myself. My birthday is in a few days, and through then, I will be holding a sale on my trilogy of science fantasy epics, the World Spectrum.

Book one, Rage of the Old Gods, will be free, while Children of the Gods and Human Again will each be 50% off, meaning you’ll be able to get the full trilogy for about the price of a cup of coffee.

* * *

Humanity was not born free.

Long ago, humans were slaves to the Old Gods. They rebelled, overthrowing the Gods and establishing their own societies, but peace did not last. Humanity slaughters itself in petty wars.

Now, an army of war Automatons threatens to destroy the land of Eastenhold. To save her people, a young woman named Leha travels to the to the lost worlds of Tyzu and Sy’om, whose alien powers defeated the Old Gods in ancient times.

But there is worse to come. The wars of humankind only hasten the Old Gods’ return, and even Leha’s newfound powers may not be enough to save her people from the Gods’ fury, or from the hatred in their own hearts.

* * *

If you’ve been enjoying my free chapters of Rage of the Old Gods, now is the perfect time to buy the full book and save yourself waiting for the next chapter.

Here’s how it works:

Cover art for "Children of the Gods, the Second Book of the World Spectrum"Copy the appropriate coupon code below, click the buy link on the book’s Smashwords page (accessed via the links below), and input the code when prompted to receive the discount.

Rage of the Old Gods code (free!):

MW79R

Children of the Gods code (50% off):

YW87N

Human Again code (50%):

MV87U

Codes are not case sensitive.

Please note that these discounts only apply to purchases through Smashwords. You will not receive any discount on purchases made through other retailers. But do keep in mind that Smashwords provides ebooks in all major formats, so you should be able to enjoy my books regardless of your preferred reading device.

Also note that these codes will cease to function on July 6th, so make sure to take advantage now.

If you’d like to learn more about the series before you buy, check out the official site for oodles of back information, reviews, author interviews, and bonus material.

Enjoy!

Rage of the Old Gods, Chapter Seventeen: For Every Action

After a bit of a break, the serial continues with the seventeenth chapter of Rage of the Old Gods, the first book of my epic science fantasy trilogy the World Spectrum. In the coming weeks, I will be posting the entire book for free on this blog. If you’re just joining us, you can get caught up with the previous chapters now.

Cover art for Humanity has taken the fight to the enemy, and won. But those who sow the thunder reap the whirlwind, and the Gods’ retribution will be terrible.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

———————

Chapter Seventeen: For Every Action

The humans were arrogant, the Automaton Lord thought, its gargantuan feet leaving dents in the earth with each loping stride it took. They refused to acknowledge that their fate was sealed, that it had been for more than a year.

Their attack on the ziggurat had come as a surprise. For a brief time, it had even been a source of concern. But the Machine King had realized that this would not hurt its people in the long run. That ziggurat could be rebuilt, and there were still many others. The human army had lost soldiers in the battle, and they had divided their forces. They had created a situation that the Machine King could turn to its advantage.

No, it thought, this was not a bad thing. It focused its hateful gaze forward, on its target. On the north.

* * *

For nearly two hours, Leha and her army celebrated their accomplishment. The Lost One villages and the Clanspeople sent them whiskey and fejo through the jumping points; there wasn’t enough for every fighter, but those that had to didn’t seem to mind going without. Leha received congratulatory messages from the north, the east, Sy’om, and Tyzu. At times, the moment turned bittersweet as wounded soldiers succumbed or fighters discovered that their friends had not survived. But the losses seemed to only intensify the need to enjoy the moment. It seemed to give more meaning to what they had done.

For the first time in months, Leha saw hope in her people. The dead sorrow had, at least for the moment, vanished from their eyes. Once again, they looked upon her with reverence and pride.

Eventually, things wound down, and they turned to more serious matters. They had no intention of holding the ziggurat for a prolonged period, but Leha wanted to take some time to study the fallen Automatons and their city. Drogin sent out teams to destroy every machine’s artificial mind and to salvage whatever they could from the wrecks of the Automatons. Even a few Automatons’ worth of metal could greatly boost the human stores. The flashes of activated jumping points soon winked across the ziggurat as the pieces were sent to the north and the east.

At this point, Leha had little to contribute, but it didn’t feel right for her to leave, so she wandered the ziggurat, studying it. She supposed that the ziggurats in the time of the Liberation and before had probably not been much different from this one – machines were not known for embracing change. The thought triggered a hint of interest within her, but the memory of all those that had died in the war tempered her historical curiosity.

As the sun worked its way across the dirty sky, she mulled over the consequences of what they had done this day. At times, she wondered if it meant little in the long run. There were many more ziggurats and hundreds more Automatons. But at other moments, she thought it might prove to be very significant. They had struck a blow at the very foundation of the machine empire. It would have strong psychological repercussions on both sides. It could even prove to be a major turning point in the war.

She tried not to let herself become too hopeful – the war was far from over – but despite her best efforts, she found herself turning to thoughts of an Automaton defeat, thoughts of a world after the war – something she hadn’t done in nearly a year. At first, it seemed a wonderful idea, almost too much to hope for. But as time went on, unease crept into her. She remembered the way things had been before the Automaton rebellion: the wars, the distrust, the fracturing of nations.

The history of humanity on Barria was stained with blood, greed, and betrayal. The need to survive had brought the splintered peoples back together, but would it all fall apart again if their lives were no longer threatened?

Leha paced the edges of the ziggurat, sweating in the Urannan heat and trying not to let her people see her frown as her worries for the future grew.

Sometime later, she came across Natoma sitting upon a rectangular piece of machinery bolted to the ziggurat floor. Leha asked if she could join her, and Natoma gestured for her to sit. Leha took her place on the metallic block. She noticed the gap the Worker-Automaton had burned in Natoma’s breastplate. The skin underneath had a slight reddish tinge, but it looked otherwise healthy. Leha shook her head. She had trouble believing Yarnig had done it.

She looked across the barren fields surrounding the ziggurat. She could still see a few machines moving out there, but she didn’t think they were a cause for concern. None of them had done anything threatening yet. The chemical-laced air stung her nostrils, and the heat beat down on her. She loosened the collar of her leather armor and fanned herself with one hand.

She turned to Natoma and started to say something, but then she noticed the other woman’s expression. Natoma’s eyes stared out onto the plain around the city, but they seemed to be seeing something else, something far away. Her mouth was set into a tight line, and a deep, pure sorrow filled her face.

Leha scolded herself. This was Natoma’s homeland; she should have remembered that before now. Natoma had not been in her country for months, and now she was confronted with this machine-made abomination.

Leha flushed, cursing her foolishness.

“I wish I could have seen it before,” Leha said.

“So do I,” Natoma said, her eyes still focused on something Leha couldn’t see. She sighed. “My people used to have a saying: Uranna halwa gorna. It means, ‘Uranna is a garden.’ Before the war, this was a land of orchards and fields. Every springtime, the fruit trees would fill the air with perfume for weeks.” She clutched the edge of the machine they sat on. A trace of accent had returned to her voice.

Leha looked at her feet. “For whatever it’s worth, I understand. Three Gates was never as grand as any city in Uranna, or Pira, or even Tor Som. But I spent my entire life there; it was home.” Her head drooped as she remembered her old shop and the homeland she had lost.

“Much has been lost,” Natoma said distantly. She paused. “All my life, I’ve tried never to dwell on the past, or the future. I’ve always thought that now is the only time that matters. But it’s hard when now means this,” she said, pointing at the desolation created by the Automatons.

She shifted her gaze downward, blinking her eyes as if to clear them of something. Memories, perhaps, Leha thought.

Leha gave Natoma’s metal-plated arm a gentle squeeze. The Urannan smiled at her weakly.

They stayed silent as they sat together. The sounds of the work crews – banging metal, shouting, the hissing of magical cutting flames – came from somewhere distant. Leha’s thoughts kept turning to the future, to what would happen if humanity regained control of this world.

“Natoma,” she said after a few minutes.

Natoma turned her head to face her. She still seemed pained, but her expression was not so stricken now.

Leha hesitated. She didn’t want to seem callous by changing the subject. “Do you ever think about the future? After we defeat the Automatons – if we do? I know it isn’t ‘now,’ but – things will be pretty different then, won’t they?”

Natoma thought. “I suppose they would,” she said softly, her eyes drifting back to the wasteland outside the city.

It was Leha’s turn to look at something distant and invisible. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. And I’m starting to worry that they might not be different enough.”

Natoma refocused on her.

Leha’s face grew hard. “I meant what I said at the meeting, when we decided to launch this attack. This – ” she pointed at the desolation “ – is not the fault of the machines. We were the ones who resurrected them. We were the ones so blinded by greed and anger that we refined them until they could destroy us. All the people who were killed, all the things that were lost, are on our heads. We’re to blame.” She took a breath to calm herself. “If we win this war, what’s to stop us from doing it all again? What’s to stop us from going back to war with each other? What’s to stop us from resurrecting the machines again or finding some other way to destroy ourselves?”

She hung her head.

Natoma peered at the sky, thinking. “I don’t think I could go back to thinking of humans in terms of ‘Urannan,’ or ‘Karkaran,’ or ‘Eastenholder,’” she said, turning her face back to Leha. “But maybe others could.” She shrugged. “It’s hard to say.”

Leha pursed her lips. “The Lost Ones managed to stay mostly united, but there aren’t very many of them, and they live on a world that will kill you as soon as you stop making use of every possible advantage and ally.”

“Do you ever wonder if Tyzu has physically changed the way they think of humans, that they have a stronger instinct for unity than we do?” Her accent had begun to slip away again.

Leha shrugged. “Sometimes. But even if they did, it’s not like I can hunt down every human on Barria and make them into a Lost One. People won’t want to change what they are.” She glanced at her claws, remembering.

Natoma blinked. “Leha, are you trying to make sure we stay unified?”

The question surprised Leha, but she realized that, without thinking about it, she had made that her goal.

“Yes. And why not? Whether I like it or not, people have entrusted me with saving the human race. What’s the point of that if we just find some new way to destroy ourselves in a few hundred years?”

Admiration shone in Natoma’s eyes. “That may be the noblest goal I have ever heard.” She shook her head. “I could never attempt such a thing.” Leha met her gaze, and Natoma touched her on the shoulder. “But I think that, if anyone can do this, it’s you.”

Leha stared at her. She blinked at her several times. “I’ve – I’ve never thought of myself as the best person for the job,” she said quietly. “Just the only one.”

Natoma spread her hands. “Look at what you have done. You have brought together the nations of humanity. You have united the peoples of three worlds. You have fought the Old Gods themselves.”

Leha lowered her head. “I didn’t do those things alone. The things people have given me credit for were the work of all of us.”

“Then perhaps that gives hope for your goal,” Natoma said. “At the least, you have a few friends who can help you.”

Leha smiled at her. At that moment, seeing the kindness in Natoma’s eyes, she thought that she might have a chance at succeeding in her goal.

She felt a tickle at the edge of her mind, and the voice of an ice creature tore through her thoughts. Leha, the north is under attack.

Her insides turned to ice. Before she knew it, she was on her feet and moving.

* * *

The sun hung low over the Gormorra Range as Leha strode through the camp, shouting instructions to the soldiers buzzing around her. Her army had returned here to restock and drop off the wounded before going to reinforce the north.

“Don’t overburden yourselves. You need to be able to fight the moment we jump there,” she commanded. The ice creatures were just beginning to reestablish the link through the army, and she had to give many orders vocally.

She surveyed her people as they scurried about. She tried to look confident. She ran over the situation in her mind in an attempt to stay calm; a massive force of Automatons had launched itself at the northern front and taken advantage of the division of forces the attack on Tallatzan had created. Reports said that the Automaton Lord had joined the attack. In many places, the human forces were already on the brink of defeat, and Eranna and Doga feared that the entire line might break.

Leha and her people planned to split into groups and jump in at several locations behind the machine lines. Hopefully, the pressure of both sides would force the Automatons to abandon the attack. Once they lost their taste for battle, Leha would likely let them retreat. She didn’t think she had the forces to defeat them in a toe-to-toe battle.

Her survey of the camp had brought her close to the Clan hall. From here, she could see through her window. A bit of afternoon sunlight glinted off something blue on the sill: the crystal from beneath the mountain.

She felt a chill. She remembered her feelings that the creator race outpost held some key to fighting the machines, she remembered her hours of studying the crystal and sensing the power it held, and she walked towards it. She paid no attention to the sensible voice in her mind telling her that she had no idea how to use the thing, and in moments, the crystal rested in her belt, pulsing hot and cold.

Her mind tickled and then expanded, encompassing the other leaders under her command as the telepathic link came together.

Everything’s ready, Natoma sent.

The others echoed her.

Leha jogged for the nearest jumping point. Let’s go.

* * *

A wave of screeching sound met Yarnig’s ears as he arrived at the northern front. He drew his sword, activated its magic, and charged. Erik ran at his side, their thoughts joined closer than any others in their section of the link.

A squad of battle wizards had been the first ones through the jumping point, and they had erected a huge shield to protect the soldiers as they arrived. The blanket of magic flickered above them, bulging and rippling under each new attack by the Wizard-Automatons. Yarnig and Erik pounded out from underneath its protection and sought the nearest enemy target.

They were at the northern edge of the forests separating Tor Som from the territory of the Clans. Large sections of the trees had been burnt, torn down, or trampled in the Automaton charge and the ensuing battle. Columns of smoke dotted the sky in a line from east to west, and flashes and booms from the horizon gave further evidence of the battles being fought elsewhere. The smells of smoke and blood washed through the air in waves, and a cool northerly wind blew across their faces.

Leha had imbued them with the power of Tyzu, and Erik and Yarnig’s feet ate up the ground in great leaping strides. They closed in on a Urannan Automaton wielding an enormous axe. Natoma and a few others had already begun to attack it. Natoma leapt past it, and as she passed its left knee, she swung backwards with her sword. The gleaming blade bit into the machinery at the back of the knee, and the Automaton stumbled. Leha hadn’t yet slowed it with Sy’om’s energy, and it swung its axe in a backwards attack on Natoma – it didn’t seem to be able to turn easily now. Natoma ducked and rolled under the axe as she hit the ground.

Yarnig raised his hand, and Erik’s staff glowed. Once again, he painted with his mind, but this time, he painted not health, but destruction. Green-white fire raced along the seams of the machine, starting at its right foot and moving upward.

The Automaton’s leg collapsed, and it fell forward, crashing against the earth and broken trees. The magical fire continued to spread up its chest and into the seams of its neck and shoulders. Its arms detached from its torso, and a moment later, its head toppled off.

Yarnig lowered his hand. Beside him, Erik puffed and supported himself with his staff, having forgotten his shield in Tallatzan. Yarnig panted in telepathic sympathy.

A series of thunderous footsteps shook the ground beneath them, and they turned to see a Wizard-Automaton making for them. It raised an arm, and a blinding bolt of energy leapt towards them.

Erik’s instincts as a wizard took over, and he summoned a shield around them. The machine’s spell met it a moment later, and the protective magic bent and warped under the strain, constricting until it barely covered the two of them. The grass around them burned. The heat stung Yarnig’s skin, and he had to close his eyes against the blinding light of the magic. A deafening hiss rang through his ears.

He forced himself to ignore his own pain and fear. In Erik’s mind’s eye, he studied the stream of magic the Wizard-Automaton had directed against them. He experimented with redirecting small parts of the stream, sending them back against other parts. The shield wobbled dangerously as he drew more power from Erik, but the Automaton’s spell also weakened. Yarnig continued with his work, twisting the magic against itself in small pieces until it became a knot, harmlessly sparking and lashing against itself.

Erik seized the opportunity to shove the machine’s spell away. While the Wizard-Automaton struggled to regain control of its magic, Yarnig opened his eyes and hurled thin blades of magic against its wrists. The silver burned, cracked, and then shattered, robbing the Automaton of its magic. The machine’s azure eyes glared at him.

Yarnig closed his eyes again and focused on the energy all around them, blending it together with his mental brush. He created two tiny but powerful darts of pure energy. He launched them at the machine, and its eyes glared no longer.

He opened his in time to see the Wizard-Automaton’s dead hulk thud into the soil. He took a deep breath, feeling Erik’s exhaustion as his own.

He considered the smoldering rubble that had been the Urannan machine and the Wizard-Automaton. He considered Natoma fighting as if she had never been wounded at all. He had done these things. He had made a difference. It was a strange feeling, but he liked it.

Sensing his thoughts, Erik gave him a tired a smile. Yarnig smiled back.

A group of Clanspeople, under attack by Automatons, cried out for help across the link. Yarnig and Erik took off in their direction, summoning their magic once again.

* * *

Leha stabbed at the supports connecting the back of the Automaton’s head to its neck, trying to sever them. Hot sparks and stinging smoke sprayed forth with each new jab of her blade.

Someone screamed out a warning in her mind via the link. She turned her head around in time to see a mechanical fist fly towards her. She summoned Sy’om’s energy, but too late. The fist of the second Automaton slammed into her and dislodged her from the first machine. She soared through the air, retracting her blade so she wouldn’t impale herself, and hit the ground hard. Pain burst through her right shoulder, and she rolled across the grass. She slowed herself with Sy’om’s energy moments before she collided with the trunk of a thin spruce, sending needles rustling down around her.

Groaning, she returned to a Barrian energy level and hauled herself to a sitting position. She looked back at the way she had come from. The machine she had been attacking had been toppled by Clanspeople ropes and was now being torn apart, but the other advanced on her.

The energy of Sy’om slowed it, and a group of battle wizards and soldiers armed with crossbows engaged it. One of the crossbow bolts shattered a lead plate on its chest, and a wizard took the advantage, striking with a globe of crackling magic. The magic penetrated the machine’s chest, and it fell.

Leha sighed in relief and sent her soldiers a psychic message of gratitude.

She picked herself up, brushing evergreen needles from her armor and trying to calm the buzzing in her head. Battles were being fought from the Gormorra Mountains to the Mannall Range. It was a lot to keep track of.

She started out of the woods, many of her people following, and crested a small, grassy rise. Her heart sank.

Doga and Eranna’s main camp – a small town of tents, temporary structures, and Clan halls – lay below. What appeared to be about three-dozen Automatons had penetrated its defenses and begun laying waste to the settlement. Leha could see the defenders trying to beat them back, but they were losing ground by the moment. Countless thin fingers of smoke reached for the sky.

And standing above everything, its massive shadow staining the landscape, was the Automaton Lord.

Leha searched for some way to gain the advantage, and her mind turned to the crystal in her belt. She remembered Drogin’s concerns that the machines might sense its energy, that it might bring them down upon the camp. She remembered her conviction that it had some role to play.

She pulled the crystal from her belt and raised it above her head. Many minds throughout the link muttered with doubt, her own included, but she ignored them. She locked her eyes upon its ever-changing depths and focused her whole consciousness upon it. She tried to forget her fear of the Machine King and her worries about the outcome of the battle. She forgot the pain in her shoulder and the screeching and violence all around her.

The light within the crystal swirled and twisted around itself. It pulsed brighter and brighter, and each change from hot to cold became wilder. The crystal began to emit a high-pitched whine. Her soldiers stepped back nervously.

A wave of sapphire energy burst from the crystal and spread outward, tingling across Leha’s skin. Tendrils of blue light twisted through the air like serpents before fading away.

The Automaton Lord jerked as if struck. It spun about and charged for Leha with terrifying speed. A moment later, the other Automatons broke away from the attack and followed their leader. The hill shook beneath Leha’s feet.

She commanded those with her to make ready, and they settled into a defensive formation. She stayed a few feet ahead of them; her style of fighting did not benefit from formations. Putting the crystal back into her belt, she activated her blade and hoped her heart would not burst through her ribcage. She felt her fear reflected in the minds of the soldiers behind her.

The Automaton Lord’s strides ate up the ground. Within seconds, it had closed nearly half the distance to Leha. She peaked behind the advancing wall of Automatons and saw the camp defenders rush forward in pursuit of them. With any luck, the machines would be too distracted by what was in front of them to notice the attack coming from behind.

The ice creatures in her group reached out to the fighters from the camp and expanded the link to include them. Leha felt the presence of Doga and Eranna in her mind.

They peppered her with wordless questions, and she sent them her memories of the past few hours and her plans for the next few minutes. She felt Doga frown in concern at the thought of her facing the Automaton Lord and its forces, but she pushed aside his worries, saying, Just get here as quickly as you can. Between our two forces, we might be able to trap them.

The Tor woman and the Lost One nodded grimly.

Leha refocused her attention on the task at hand as the Machine King made the last few steps toward her. She prepared to summon Sy’om’s energy, but before she could, it raised one massive hand, and brilliant light and heat erupted around her. She screamed and shielded her eyes.

A great roaring filled her ears, and heat, like that from a huge bonfire, bombarded her skin. She opened her eyes, blinking against the brightness, and saw that she had been trapped in a whirlwind of magical energy. If she moved more than an inch or two in any direction, she would be burned by the green-white tornado.

In front of her, a part of the whirlwind weakened slightly. It was enough for her to vaguely glimpse the Machine King towering over her.

In her mind, she saw her people engage the machines. Their hopes fell as knowledge of her imprisonment spread through the ranks, but she admonished them to stay strong. She forced herself to maintain her courage so her people’s morale would not break.

She tilted her head up and met the icy gaze of the Automaton Lord. Her blood chilled at its immense size, but she kept her back straight and her bearing proud.

Its voice tore through her mind. You bear a crystal of the First Ones. How? Why?

Leha stood her ground. She felt a trace of a smirk touch her lips; there was an opportunity here. “We have discovered their last outpost. Our people have already begun to decipher their secrets. Soon, we’ll have gained enough information to destroy your kind for good.” She felt pleased that her voice didn’t shake.

The Automaton Lord raised its hands, and the whirlwind began to constrict, the gap it had opened already closing. At that moment, Leha lashed out with a wave of Sy’om’s energy. The whirlwind weakened, and she shot through the narrowing gap, the magic stinging her skin. Tyzuan energy and her own enhanced muscles carried her dozens of feet into the air, and she slammed into the lower torso of the Machine King. She dug into the gaps in its armor with her claws and scurried higher, reaching the midpoint of its chest. Her injured shoulder ached under the strain.

She chose a seam between two huge plates of lead and cut into it with her blade. She squinted to shield her eyes from the sparks. Bolts of magic leapt from the Machine King’s silver-plated wrists and dove for her, but they struck the chest’s lead plates. The spells shattered into a thousand tiny sparks and fingers. Small shards of magic stung Leha’s exposed skin, leaving welts and minor burns.

All around her, her people were locked in combat with the other Automatons. Every moment, she felt more minds disappear from the link. But minute by minute, they gained momentum. Moments before, Doga and Eranna’s forces had come up from behind, and now Automatons toppled and fell. Narviks and swords tore into those that survived their falls, crossbow bolts shattered armor and crippled joints, and the humans came closer to prevailing.

Soldiers began to attack the Automaton Lord with magic, crossbows, and other weapons, though their efforts made little impact. It lashed back at them with its weakened magic.

Leha gave the order to retract her blade – she ignored Drogin’s protestations against her taking on the Machine King – and dug the claws of both hands into the gap she had created. She pulled back with all strength until her muscles burned and her joints ached, but the plate barely creaked. It was too thick.

She gave up and leaned in closer, panting. She swore. How do I bring you down?

The other machines had been all but crushed between the two forces, and fighters swarmed at the Automaton Lord. But even weakened by Leha, it was a formidable opponent. Beams of magic tore through the humans, sometimes killing dozens in a single sweep, and those that avoided death made little progress against its almost impenetrable armor. The stink of burnt flesh and the screams of the wounded flowed up from below.

Leha tried widening the gap with her claws and venom, but she made no headway. She swore again. The Machine King unleashed another barrage of magic against her. She flattened herself against its chest in an attempt to avoid the renegade waves of power.

A bright bead of energy skipped off the leaden surface and collided with the back of her left hand. Pain exploded through the appendage, and she lost her grip. She cried out.

When the pain had subsided slightly, she looked at her hand. The skin had been charred and twisted, and the blackened flash smoked and steamed, emitting a smell like overcooked bacon. Leha’s stomach churned in revulsion. Her fingers hung uselessly; she hoped it would only be temporary.

She glared up at the face of the Machine King. It glared back.

She swore at it vehemently, and released its chest with her good hand, pushing off and somersaulting backward. It blasted at her with several bursts of magic, but the battle wizards below deflected them.

Sy’om’s energy cushioned her landing, and then she returned to a Tyzuan level of power. Soldiers rushed in to usher her away from the battle, protecting her with lead shields and their bodies. They worried over her wounded hand, but she brushed off their ministrations for the moment.

She turned back to survey the field of battle. Aside from the Machine King, every Automaton in the area had been destroyed – the machines had attacked the northern front with huge numbers, but those numbers had been spread over many miles, and here, at least, the humans had been able to overwhelm them. The Automaton Lord had begun to ponderously turn to its right, and it had focused all its attack on the soldiers in that direction. She shuddered as more and more minds vanished from the link.

It’s trying to retreat, Leha realized. Break off the attack; let it go, she sent.

A shimmer of doubt passed through her people, but they backed off, allowing the Automaton Lord to move away. Once the machine had gone a little distance, she returned it to Barria’s energy level, and its enormous legs carried it across the grassy fields and away from the field of battle. Leha cursed silently; it went north. It had breached the front.

She knelt on the tufted grass. Field medics bandaged her throbbing hand as she telepathically explained that they could not have been successful against the Automaton Lord, that they couldn’t have made any headway.

She watched the dark blob of the Machine King grow closer to the horizon. She hoped her lie about the knowledge of the First Ones, as it had called them, would serve to intimidate the machines and not drive them to greater aggression. It occurred to her to wonder if Automatons could read minds and tell fact from fiction – they were telepaths – but she supposed that the tricks and tactics employed by her people since the beginning of the war would not have been effective if the machines had been able to do that. Perhaps mechanical and biological minds were not compatible.

Gritting her teeth against the pain in her hand and shoulder, she closed her eyes and listened to the cacophony of the dozens of battles still being waged across the north. In some places, the humans were gaining victory. In others, the Automatons prevailed. In still others, the outcome remained uncertain. Dozens of machines and hundreds of humans continued to fall.

She did what she could to aid her people, giving instructions when she could and channeling the energies of the other worlds. It had been hard to do when she had been fighting, and it was not much easier now.

When the medics finished, she forced herself to her feet. Her body ached from fatigue and numerous injuries. She spurred her legs into action and led her people west, to the nearest battle, leaving behind a handful to guard the camp. Doga and Eranna came to the fore, running on either side of her. Leha smiled at Doga and nodded to Eranna.

Their path cut through a finger of forest, and their feet pattered and rustled across the needle-strewn, underbrush-covered earth, releasing the earthy scents of pine resin and new growth. Through gaps in the sparse canopy, Leha saw columns of smoke rising from the westward battle. There would be no rest today. Maybe, if they fought long enough and hard enough, they would still be able to make something good come of this dark day.

———————

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