Stories Hub / Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Dream Drive Ch. 10

Dream Drive Ch. 10

by Over_Red 10/05/15

Author's Note:

Sorry about the extended wait on this one! Life keeps me busy.

Edited by Expoh, AnnabelleFalls13, Michael Scott, Zald, and I.C.


Vuntha stood at the top of the hill. Behind him, down the slope, lay the sprawling encampment of the People-Under-The-Mountain. The once-bustling tent city was emptied, devoid of activity but for the wind whipping at the cloth. Behind that lay the mountain, a black wall at their backs, the only defense protecting the women and children should they fall.

The sky was pale and endless, covered by a uniform cloud that obscured the rising sun. His breath fogged against the cold air. The wind was seeping into his clothes; his joints were stiff. A small piece of his mind panicked briefly, wondering if his hands would still move right once the iron men reached them. He shifted his feet and checked his grip, driving away the nerves.

In one hand, he held his spear. He concentrated on the feeling of wood under his fingers, experiencing the slight rises and smooth creases of his familiar weapon. He'd be needing it very soon. All the long, difficult days of training with his father now seemed far too short, wasted away talking when he should have gotten up again and sparred more fiercely, raked in one more second of practice.

Vuntha tied up the top knot of his jacket with his hand, tugging it close to his neck to keep the cold out. It was his leather war jacket, woven more for summer hunting than for wars in winter, but it would let him move easily. The tribes did not usually make war so late in the year.

Vuntha tried to embrace the cold. He told himself it was keeping him awake and alert. He feared the moment in which he'd be warm.

Hanta stood next to him. His father's gaze was locked on the flats that stretched in front of their position on the hills. They took in the view together.

The oncoming tide of the iron men was slow, but inevitable. Their dark green and black uniforms rolled over the browning grass of the plains. Their feet thumped with a mechanical precision, and their iron shields and armor shook in the same ponderous tempo. The sound echoed in the air.

Hanta gestured toward the end of the lines. "Watch for those ones," he said to the gathered men. "Elites, highly trained, extremely tenacious. Their weapons are incredibly sharp – some may be magicked by their mages. Do not try to block them. Use a long thrust when you strike at them, keep your distance."

Vuntha followed his father's hand with his eyes. The soldiers at the end of the iron men's formation were cut from a different sort of steel. Their armor was black; needle-spikes jutted out at the joints. They carried tall, hooked weapons, almost like a spear and an axe hammered together.

Past the assembly of spiked-armored elites that edged the line were their heavy cavalry. The horses kept a slow pace, staying in step with the footmen. Hanta had already informed them that this was part of their strategy. The mounted troops were primed to move easily, either to defend a weak point or strike where the tribes showed weakness. The hook-wielders would defend the flanks in their absence, allowing the main line to swing about and crush pockets of resistance.

Maybe it was because Vuntha had so much practice fighting and hunting that he could appreciate the army before him. The training and coordination required to move thousands of men as one was extremely difficult to achieve.

Knowing their strategy was different from defeating it. The wall of iron was very visible, but a spear wouldn't do much good against it alone. The tribes normally fought on the open plains, where they knew the land and could make an easy escape, hitting their target and running before they could be harmed themselves. This was different. They had to stop the enemy, right here, or their lives and their families would be in danger.

Vuntha brushed at his jacket, and brushed at it again. The sleeves and surface of it were plain, simple leather. The jackets of the men around him were far more impressive, strung with beads, sewn with feathers both white for counting coup and red for taking a life. His father's was most impressive of all, a full battle tale painted on the back by Vuntha's mother.

Vuntha's teeth rattled as the iron men grew closer. He wasn't sure if it was from the cold or the fear. He took up his spear in both hands.

Today, he would stain his war jacket. Or he would die. Maybe both.

A hand settled on his shoulder. Hanta had a serious sort of smile on his face. "You are my son," he said. "You'll be fine."

Vuntha just nodded. He was afraid his voice would come out a squeak.

Hanta patted him again, then moved forward slightly. They stood next to Jalak, the leader of the Three Hills tribes that had not abandoned their brothers. As opposed to Kunaya. Damn traitor.

A surge of anger swelled in Vuntha. This was all Kunaya's fault – him and Boonta. Hundreds were dead, and hundreds more were injured or dying. Vuntha grabbed the hatred, nurtured it, stroked it like a pet hound. It drove away the cold and the nerves.

The iron men were almost in range of their bows. Jalak raised his hand. A shout went up and down the line to nock arrows, and the warriors that had bows did so.

Vuntha heard shuffling behind him. He turned. He almost thought it was Chaki by her height, but the sharper features and broad ponytail marked her as Fenay. Vuntha nodded to her in greeting, and got a nod in return.

Hanta stepped back over. "Where is Chaki? She said she'd stand with our group."

"I don't know," Fenay said. "Secha – the skinny one, shorter." She gestured across her waist, indicating the girl's height. Vuntha nodded his head that he knew her. "She ran to my healing tent and told me Chaki was getting help. I divided the essence she gave us between the apprentices, but it isn't much. We might be able to repel one more of those big spells. Nothing after that."

"Maybe she's gone to see if Jackson has returned," Vuntha said. "The spirit guides don't know about the battle. They might not know how much they are needed."

"We can only hope she returns quickly," Hanta said. "Gather your strength, Fenay. We'll need it."

Hanta stepped out in front of the lines. Jalak gave him a questioning frown, but Hanta just nodded to him. He looked up and down the lines.

"I am Hanta, of the Windseekers!"

Hanta's voice was loud, carried along by the wind. He needed the help – the advantage that the tribes had over the iron men was numbers. By Vuntha's count, perhaps five or six thousand to their three thousand. More, if Kunaya had not taken half the Three Hills and stolen half their horses.

"We are not like them!" Hanta pointed to the oncoming march. "We are not mindless soldiers, shielding ourselves in shame from Mother Earth, hiding behind the very iron we stole from her belly! We are The-People-Under-The-Mountain! This is our home, our land, our most sacred ground! Shakhan is with us, watching over us!"

The men shouted. Spears were waved overhead. The bowmen, still holding their arrows ready, stamped their feet and called war cries, a mixed cacophony of shrieks and warbled notes that briefly overwhelmed the sound of marching feet.

Horns sounded from the iron men, as if in answer – high, exacting notes, blasting over the plains and commanding attention. The line of the iron men thinned slightly, stretched to accommodate the size of that formed by the tribes. The warriors fell quiet as they watched.

Hanta turned back to the line. "We don't have iron, like they do. But today they will find out something else. Our will and our spirits are stronger than any iron they can forge! We are going to show them what happens to those that step under the mountain without the word of the guardian at their backs!"

Vuntha felt the energy of the warriors collect like a tangible thing. He could feel it himself, his spirits rising. They were warriors, huntsmen of the guardian Shakhan, and this was their purpose – to protect and defend the lands Under-The-Mountain.

And he felt pride. That was his father. This was Vuntha's time. Time to prove he was a man, to prove he could take up Hanta's mantle in winters yet to come.

"Prepare to stain your war jackets with a story greater than any in a thousand winters!" Hanta shouted. "They will show no mercy! Show them only the end of your spear! Bowmen, draw your arrows!"

Hanta's last command was barely heard over the screaming and shouting of the warriors in response to his call, but the few bowmen that did drew and sighted up their foes. The others saw the movement, and the order went down the line.

Vuntha realized he was gripping his spear in both hands, holding it tighter than he ever had. He gritted his teeth and set his feet, pointing his spear out. This was it. He was ready.

Another horn blew. The iron men raised their shields above their heads in response to the knocked arrows. A wave of linked steel protected their heads.

"Their wall isn't perfect!" Jalak shouted. "They walk slow, weighted by iron! Aim carefully!"

The archers sighted down, adjusted. Some sniffed at the air, trying to feel out the wind.

"Hold!" Jalak said.

The iron men were almost in range. Vuntha wondered how they would respond. More lightning magic? Something else, something worse?

A horn sounded. The army ground to a halt.

Silence hung in the air. No one moved. Vuntha was almost afraid to breathe.

Jalak kept his hand held. "Hold!"

"What's going on?" Fenay muttered.

"Hanta?" Jalak said. "What do you think?"

"I don't know," Hanta said. "Something's not right."

"They raised their shields for our arrows, but now they've stopped." Jalak frowned. His eyes scanned the battlefield, hunting for some sort of sign.

"I feel magic!" Fenay said. "Some sort of spell."

"What magic?" Jalak asked.

"I don't see the lightning or the fire," Vuntha said.

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